MOVIE: “The Last Exorcism” (2010)
DIRECTOR: Daniel Stamm
WRITER: Huck Botko & Andrew Garlund
SIX DEGREES OF CAST & CREW
- Iris Bahr is best known as the hot chick from “Larry The Cable Guy: Health Inspector,” and if you saw that movie in the theater I suggest you kill yourself right now.
- Patrick Fabian is best known as Ratfinkovich from the excellent “Millennium” episode “Jose Chung’s Doomsday Device,” which also features the awesome Charles Nelson Reilly.
- Louis Herthum has the most noteworthy career, having appeared on a staggering 25 episodes of “Murder She Wrote” as Dep. Andy Broom, which is a name that reeks of hilarity.
The Reverend Cotton Marcus (TV veteran Patrick Fabian) is a man without a church. He’s a freelance pastor who seems to make his living by plying his trade: exorcisms. He’s basically a traveling exorcist, not of the Catholic Church persuasion, but of the more fundamentalist backwoods revival sort. He’s a cross between a conman and a child prodigy, having been brought up and groomed to be a child preacher by his father, also a pastor in a nameless denomination of fundamentalist Christianity.
Unfortunately for Rev. Marcus, he’s not got much else in the world he’s good at except for his religious service, and he’s got that act down pat. From smoke-puffing crucifixes to hidden portable speaker systems to an MP3 player loaded with hundreds of scary demon noises, Cotton has his con game down cold, and none of it has to do with actual religious faith. At one time he believed, but after his son was born and saved by medicine, not God, his faith became a thing of the past and now it’s time for his vocation to become a thing of the past as well.
Hence, Rev. Marcus is taking one last job, and then he’s done. (Like every heist movie, that one last job is always a doozy.) This time, he’s bringing a documentary film crew—producer and sound woman Iris Reisen (Iris Behr) and the mostly-nameless cameraman–along for the ride so he can expose exorcism for the fraudulent activity that it is, and hopefully ruin the con for all the other false prophets preying on the ignorance of fools.
The particular fools to be the last demonstration of Cotton’s particular brand of power are the Sweetzers: father Louis (Louis Herthum), angry teenage son Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones), and potentially demon-infested daughter Nell (Ashley Bell). As Cotton’s song and dance routine gives way to the reality of Nell’s situation, it’s clear that Rev. Marcus has something else on his hands. It’s not demons; more like dangerous schizophrenia. Now it’s up to Marcus and company to get Nell the help that she needs while at the same time not being shotgunned to death by her doctor-phobic father.
This film is a very interesting film. There’s nobody you’ve really heard of before in the cast, unless you remember Patrick Fabian’s performance as Ratfinkovich in the classic Millennium episode “Jose Chung’s ‘Doomsday Defense.’” However, for a movie with some lesser-known talent, that doesn’t mean it isn’t well-acted. If anything, the movie’s mockumentary style comes out better when you’re using unfamiliar people. Fabian especially is very good in his role as Cotton Marcus, showing both the seamier side of his con game without being repulsive while still showing a degree of helplessness at his own fate that is the hallmark of most folks forced into a profession at a young age (be they child actors or the obvious inspiration for Cotton Marcus, Marjoe Gortner).
The plot isn’t anything new, but it is well done. For once, the documentary aspect adds a little bit to the filming, rather than take away from it, and the built-in explanation for why the film crew is following Marcus around is a good one. You’ve seen this movie before, and you’ve seen this movie better, but this movie itself is still pretty good. The dialog from Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland is very naturalistic, even if I’m completely torn on whether or not I like the last 30 minutes or so of the film.
Director Daniel Stamm does a really good job at keeping the movie’s pot boiling throughout. The tension raised up slowly throughout the film, the deliberate use of possibly-possessed Nell, and the way Stamm liberally plucks interstitial shots from other documentaries (or shots that would be at home in any real documentary) is what raises the film up above, say, “The Blair Witch Project” or the documentary-style shots from “The Fourth Kind.” Yes, it’s a gimmick movie, but it’s also a very watchable gimmick movie. The ShakyCam I feared would leave me sick to my stomach wasn’t actually that bad, except for right at the very end.
The flaw (or possibly the strength) of “The Last Exorcism” is its ending. Everyone will be talking about that finish, and for good or ill, it will probably color your perception of the rest of the film that went before it. I’m not sure how I feel about it yet, but I’m leaning towards enjoyment. I’d love to talk about it, but not until everyone has had a chance to check out the movie and judge for themselves.
RATING: 3 smoking crucifixes out of 5.