Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Last Exorcism: Jeremiah Lasky Is BACK.

I don't get to see a lot of horror movies in theaters. I suffer from a disease called "aloneophobia" which means I get nervous about being alone in public places. Just kidding! That's not a real disease you guys. The real reason I don't see horror movies in the theater is because I don't have any friends. Okay, I do have friends--but none of them like horror movies. As much as I want to take that brave step someday and go to the movies alone, it just never happens. But I'm not crying about it because watching movies safely nestled in your warm and cozy bed is way better than dropping popcorn down your bra and having teenagers talk in your ear the whole time.

So that brings me now to The Last Exorcism. A film that has ended up on more than a few top ten lists and a film that gave me a bad taste in my mouth because Eli Roth re-tweeted EVERY good thing that people said about it on Twitter for at least 2 weeks. I was curious to see it of course judging from all the praise it received in the acting department. There were muffled whispers about some crazy ending--and being the really smart person that I think I am, I thought I guessed it but was of course, way off. It turns out that The Last Exorcism is vastly different than your typical exorcism film. It in many ways is actually an anti-exorcism film but we'll get to that.

First things first--The Last Exorcism takes the faux documentary approach to deliver a tale about the Reverend Cotton Marcus. A man who has pretty much not believed in God for some time, yet continues to rope people in with his performance antics. He has this weird magician, smoke and lights thing happening---but it doesn't bother him in the slightest. He believes that by pretending to believe, he helps people believe in what they want and need to believe in. That's a lot of beliefs I know. So the deal is, Cotton believes that Exorcisms are a scam. He employs the camera crew to have them come along on his "last exorcism" to prove this. After traveling to the Sweetzer house and meeting the supposedly possessed Nell, Cotton dives right into his routine. After leaving the house however, Cotton and the camera crew discovers that this whole ordeal may not be a hoax at all.

There's surprisingly a lot going on in this. We've got the wonderful character of Cotton Marcus who really makes me proud to say that religion is stupid. At the same time however, I kind of hate him for feeding further into peoples supposed beliefs. Like him or not, Patrick Fabian is pretty brilliant in this. And also.........he's Professor Jeremiah Lasky from Saved By the Bell the College Years, what's not to love?

Especially if your name is Kelly Kapowski.

Ashley Bell is also incredibly believable as Nell.

She is startlingly genuine in just about every one of her scenes. Everyone seems to go nuts over her depiction of her possessed character but I was honestly more excited by her portrayal of a girl who was lost. A girl who lost her mother on the brink of her sexual maturation, and a girl who was force fed this creepy idea of religion. She didn't even wear make up, it was obviously great.

As a whole, the cast of The Last Exorcism was excellent. A good faux documentary allows us to suspend our disbelief and makes us feel like we are watching a documentary and not a horror film. The acting to me never felt like acting--and that is impressive.

The scare factor is minimal but like I said-- a good faux documentary isn't supposed to be a horror film. There aren't going to be in your face moments of pure fear because hypothetically it's supposed to be "real". I was unsettled at parts, and even a little nervous a few times but overall and until the end, the film did a fine job of capturing a more realistic sort of unease as opposed to a tailor made script evoking a sense of horror.

The movie goes in several different directions. It at times feels like one of those pick your own adventure books. It could have gone to all these different explanations, and themes but it went down a route that I didn't necessarily anticipate. But that doesn't mean that the ending came out of left field. I just happened to "pick a different adventure" so to speak. If you go back and you watch the film again and pay attention to some of the early clues--the ending doesn't seem to come out of nowhere. Yes, it's a little jazzy, and fire and brimstone happy--but it fits with that particular "adventure".

Things will now be getting spoilery! Probably until the end so leave now!

You can kind of look at the movie in three different parts. We have Cotton's story and his disbelief, we have the idea of Nell's possession and where all that aggression is coming from and then we have this third aspect involving some outside forces. Whether or not you believe in the existence of God and the devil has little bearing on how you should perceive the film and its ending.

At the beginning, Cotton's words about how you cannot believe in God without believing in the devil are clearly shown by his actions at the very end of the film. A man who once ignored the existence of God and religion, is terrified at what he sees before him. In that moment he does believe in the devil and by default, he now also realizes that he does believe in God. It is this realization that causes him to take up his smoke spewing cross--and attack the demon. Was the satanic cult really a satanic cult? Maybe, maybe not. To Cotton it was. And that's the important thing you have to remember.

The cult could easily have been a smoke and mirrors trick. Just as Cotton's early gags in the church, and how he used things to fool people into believing---so could the exact same thing have happened with the cult. Cotton could have just been flipped onto the other side of things. It only proves Cotton's beginning point, that it doesn't matter if it's real or not--what matters is what people take away from it.

Since the ending veers off into this whole devil, satanic cult direction--it what ends up making the film in my mind an "anti exorcism" film. We are set up to believe in the falsity of exorcisms, and the falsity of religion that when the end rolls around we automatically want to start crying foul. I for one however didn't mind the ending. It was a little over the top maybe--but why not? It freaked me out a little, and it made me go back and question everything I had just seen. Which in a larger sense is exactly what Cotton does when he is exposed to that same truth.

I'm starting to think that people did not like The Last Exorcism because it didn't have enough exorcism in it. We think beforehand that it's going to be all fun, levitation and vomit and demon voices but it's not---it's really not. The Last Exorcism actually has more layers than people typically realize. It's not an unoriginal film in the slightest. It has so many different things to think about. My mind is going into over time thinking about all of it. Nell and her pregnancy, and her possession. The idea that her possession was of course fake because it was how she dealt with all the crazy shit that was happening to her. Man, I just want to sit somewhere and draw diagrams to get everything down on paper and out of my head!

Curse you, Last Exorcism--you made me like you! I was so prepared to shrug it off and not get involved, but damn it.......I'm involved now. Best film of the year? Not really. One of the most thought provoking? Hell yes. And yes, I said hell. Bitches.


Dod said...

Ha! I was just getting set to watch this tonight to review. I skipped over the spoiler-y parts, but as always, a great review.

Maybe Eli is reading...

Matt-suzaka said...

I recently watched The Last Exorcism and also very much enjoyed it for many of the reasons you mention. That includes that straight out of the 70's ending that so many peeps moaned and groaned about.

One thing I really liked about the film was Cotton himself. He was sort of taking advantage of people but as he explains in the film, a false sense of hope is almost as impactful to these people's lives as if he were actually doing something all spiritual.

One moment that really stood out was when he went to leave (after the first exorcism), and he uses the power of his persuasion to tell Nell's father that he needs to basically stop drinking. It really showed that he was a caring person and would use that false influence to actually help this family.

Lastly, the college years are so underrated.

B.STANK said...

Great review! I agree, the acting was fantastic and i think Cotton's character was perfectly written. I don't think it was even close to "best films of the year" but it did stir up a shitload of debate. I've yet to talk to someone that I agree with on the ending and maybe it's because I'm an idiot, not sure. I thought it was a movie about Faith and how it can cause one's perception on reality to be so radically different from another's. I thought the ending was a cop-out by forcing one perception on us over the other. But you bring up a good point in that the cult may have been a "show" also! I'll have to think about this some more. Eli tweetin...funny cuz it's true. Goin to the movies alone (matinee only)...that's how I shit ever!

Art Almquist said...

Andre, as always, great review. "The Exorcist" and "Exorcist III" are two of my favorite movies in any genre, and I looked forward to this one very much - and I went to see on its release alone in the theatre! (Nerdy, I know.)

Anyway, I fell into the camp of really loving everything right up until the last 6 minutes or so. As you said, I thought the character of Cotton was fascinating, and the script very clever in the way it set its story up - a non-believer forced into a situation in which he just may have to believe. That's powerful, dramatic stuff. I just felt that the ending was a real letdown after all the excellent things that had come before: (spoilers ahead) with its bonfire, the minister who is - surprise - really the head of a devil cult, demon baby, and beheading just felt too out-of-keeping with the story (and the final shot too much an echo of "Blair Witch.") I did, however, really like the image of Cotton walking towards the fire with his cross aloft. It felt like he had found his faith, and that was powerful.

So ... there we are. Hey, I wanted to tell you - I check out "The Scare-ening" every week and always enjoy your contributions. You three are great together. You mentioned last time which exorcism movies you'd seen, and I wanted to recommend "Exorcist III" to you. Its the real sequel (it ignores the ridiculous "Exorcist II"), written and directed by William Peter Blatty, and delivers a terrific story, great performances, and at least one moment that will make you jump right into your ceiling. (And ironically, a lot of horror fans aren't crazy about the ending of this one; I actually love it. So there we are again!)

keep up the great work!

Andre Dumas said...

Thanks Art!

I have actually seen the Exorcist III and it is now one of my favorite films. Read the book recently too. I don't know why I didn't name that one on The Scare-ening....! I wrote a review for it, check it out if you are feeling saucy.

Good points of course I agree with you to a point, it does feel different but I still think I appreciate the clues leading up to that moment. In some ways it did feel like a final big PUSH to get people excited but I also felt like it was warranted...and....I kind of secretly love satanic cult, Rosemary Baby-ish demon baby stuff. Ah yes I do.

deadlydolls said...

I also enjoyed this one wayyyyy more than I thought I would. And like you, I was really pissed that I didn't figure out part of the twist. I can't wait to rewatch it.


Just saw this one tonight actually, and I liked it quite a bit. I really liked the way my expectations kept getting twisted around.

The movie lingers in my head long after I have seen it...much like LAKE MUNGO really. I really liked how the faux documentary has come into its own, it is no longer a gimmick, it is now another tool for telling effective horror stories.

(I liked LAKE MUNGO Better though)

Todd Miro said...

I was surprised at how much I liked the film - especially the character depth of Cotton. The ending did catch me offguard- but in a good way, and once I accepted its premise, I realized it fit in with the film as a whole quite nicely and I loved its "Wicker Man" like fierceness.

Dorian Gray said...

Ah, that's hilarious--I didn't realize that Cotton was played by the same guy from Saved by the Bell:the College Years until reading your review! I just watched this yesterday and it wasn't bad, reminiscent of Blair Witch and the even the Wicker Man as others have stated. I already knew about the twist going into the film, so it didn't really have as much of an impact as it should have. But the performances of Patrick Fabian and Ashley Bell helped sell the "reality" of the characters for me, so that was a plus. I liked how Cotton, Iris and Daniel's deaths were foreshadowed through Nell's artwork. Very creepy. The movie's ending also reminded me a bit of Race With the Devil, another "innocent-people-run-afoul-of-a-satanic-cult" movie that I saw a few years ago.