"The Last Exorcism" — 5 out of 5 Stars
Fri, 25 Jun 2010 08:24:29
"Thank you all for liking Satan more than Twilight," exclaimed Eli Roth with a devilish grin last night. "Hail Satan!"
Roth's introduction to The Last Exorcism was sly, sharp and succinct, mirroring the movie's snappy tone perfectly. Thousands of teens and chichi Hollywood elite may have flocked to L.A. Live for the Twilight: Eclipse premiere, but the flick the zeitgeist will remember was playing up in the Hollywood Hills.
There was a palpable sense of dread among the packed house at the Los Angeles Film Festival's world premiere of The Last Exorcism, and it was only supplemented by producer Roth's presence.
Roth changed the horror game with Hostel and anything with his stamp of approval is worth seeing. The anticipation for darkness to finally fill out the night sky above the John Ford Amphitheater was unanimous once Roth introduced the whole cast and director Daniel Stamm, "The man of the hour." After Roth ran through his praise of the actors, everyone exited, and a silent calm took over. Given the stage setting and looming nightfall, it was more like the moment before Slayer or Iron Maiden takes the stage than the start of "just another horror movie," and The Last Exorcism might as well be the horror genre's Hell Awaits.
The Last Exorcism begins without much aplomb.
Like Suspiria, The Exorcist or The Shining, there's a rather calculated and precise buildup. A shaky handheld camera introduces The Last Exorcism's main character, Reverend Cotton Marcus—Patrick Fabian in a magnetic performance. He's a bit of a Pentecostal prodigy, beginning to preach to his father's New Orleans congregation at tender the age of ten. Basically, he's the Andre Agassi of exorcisms, with an old local newspaper clipping to prove his powers.
He tells the camera how his father trained him for the "magic moment" God would inspire this ten-year-old to become "His" vessel. He also divulges that he earned his old man all kinds of money for being the only pint-sized preacher and exorcist in the state. Cotton lets the documentary crew "following" him know from the get-go that exorcisms are merely a tool for the church to generate revenue. Basically, he went along with this ruse because it was all he knew until he had his own son, Justin, who could only be saved by a doctor—not the good lord.
Within ten minutes, the audience receives a window into a complicated man programmed to lie by religion and who's performed exorcisms (and Banana Bread Sermons) all over the state to make money. However, he doesn't have much faith anymore and he wants the "documentarians" following him to see that exorcisms aren't real so he's going to go on one final exorcism with them in tow.
Of course his last waltz with the "devil" is a real doozy.
Cotton gets an urgent letter from the Sweetzer family, so he and the camera crew trek out to their backwoods farm. The subject of the exorcism Nell—an incredible Ashley Bell—is docile in a Carrie White kind of way. She's fragile, but there's a darkness behind her eyes that Bell masterfully masks under a veneer of tears and anxiety. There's something wrong with her, and Stamm's filmmaking illuminates that, whether through shaky camera or cutting the footage at points.
Stamm's atmosphere really conjures that sense of unease. Even though Cotton does a "fake" exorcism, it's obvious that there's still something wrong with this young girl. Nell's living in a dilapidated farm house with a creepy brother named Caleb and a father so backwards the local backwoods minister refers to him as "medieval."
There are whisperings of incest and abuse that would cause the kind of palpable pain and paranoia similar to possession. With that in the background, you can't trust that situation, and it breeds all kinds of fear, especially after the exorcism doesn't work.
The scariest moment comes when our initial fear that Nell isn't cured is validated by her showing up at Cotton's motel room without word, prying her clothes off and spewing. Then it just all spirals out of control, gets bloody and we really end up south of Heaven. You'll need to see it August 27th for the rest…
In many ways, The Last Exorcism is a new horror classic. It'll make you think and squirm, primarily because the performances and storytelling are that potent. Stylistically, it's like Cloverfield meets The Exorcist but with an evil all its own. The film becomes very visceral as the third act progresses and the audience gets to know the possible "demon" even better. No one is safe in the house from our preacher protagonist to the cat hiding in the barn, and Stamm doesn't have a problem getting gory.
The outdoor setting and darkness certainly helped the vibe last night, but this is a film that necessitates another viewing, if anything just to get closer to the rich side characters that only have momentary vignettes. When it ends, you'll be scratching your head scared out of your wits…
That's the way I felt the first time I heard Slayer, and I still listen to them daily…Hail Daniel Stamm and Eli Roth…Hail The Last Exorcism…
Are you excited to see this?