Movie Review: The Last Exorcism (2010)

Ashley Bell in The Last Exorcism
Photo: Lionsgate

The Last Exorcism is more of an exercise in marketing than it is an actual movie. This low-budget, “found footage” exorcism tale is stamped with “Eli Roth Presents” in hopes of selling tickets based solely on the fact it’s an exorcism film and the lowly producer name attached to it. However, despite studio expectation, the fact Roth’s name is above the title should tell you more than enough when it comes to this film’s ability to actually entertain, let alone offer up any scares.

The green light for this film comes thanks to Roth’s tenacity along with Strike partner Eric Newman combined with the success of Cloverfield and Quarantine, both of which also hyped the hands-on feel of a “found footage” feature. While this film went into production well before the success of last year’s “found footage” frightener Paranormal Activity, it has none of the appeal that film had, or even the wherewithal to stick to what it set out to accomplish.

The film, originally titled Cotton, centers on Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), a Louisiana reverend that’s lost his belief in God (if he ever had any), but has perfected the act of selling the Lord’s existence to his flock. He also hasn’t let his lack of belief prevent him from performing exorcisms, proving to himself through a variety of cases the afflicted is usually psychotic, faking or just looking for attention. His lack of belief, in fact comes to be the purpose of this film as he agrees to have a documentary film crew follow him around and interview him as he selects one of several letters he’s sent regularly asking for his exorcist services.

In this case, the afflicted is a young girl by the name of Nell (Ashley Bell). When Cotton’s series of party tricks aren’t able to exorcise the young girl’s demons things appear to be a bit more real than Cotton ever expected, though his doubt remains for much of the film’s run time.

Of course, the goal here is to present this as a real occurrence. It’s the reason for shooting it documentary style with one camera. It’s a way of giving a first person presentation, allowing the audience to react with the characters on screen as they react and hopefully scare the hell out of everyone in the process. The only problem is director Daniel Stamm forgets this little aspect and begins cutting between various cameras, looking for the best angle and/or reaction shot. It’s amateur hour and the decision destroys any and all allusions to this being remotely authentic. I may have been able to overlook this had the film been even remotely frightening, but this film is devoid of anything resembling a scare.

The Last Exorcism goes through a variety of stages, but is, for the most part, built on a typical three act structure. It moves from its comical beginnings, to a mundane second act and a ludicrous finale that is neither interesting nor freaky. It’s just plain boring.

Admittedly, Fabian does well in the film’s opening to provide a comical look at Cotton’s life as a fraudulent reverend as he mocks his followers. It sets up his character well, but it tends to drag on too long and does little to benefit the rest of the feature. Equally, Ashley Bell does a stand out job as the possessed little girl, but the manner in which the film is shot wastes her performance as I can’t recall a single moment I was scared, frightened or even on edge despite the various shapes Bell can contort herself into.

Lionsgate has done an extremely good job of getting the word out on this film, which only seems logical as this is a movie built to be marketed before it was ever designed to be entertaining. Eli Roth has said it’s one of the scariest scripts he’s ever read, which is one of the reasons he decided to produce it. I guess Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland’s story worked much better on paper, because all I see here is a chance to sell a ho-hum exorcism film with the name of a director that hasn’t had a film since his 2007 debacle Hostel: Part II. Enough said.