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January 2011

The Last Exorcism

cast: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, and Caleb Landry Jones

director: Daniel Stamm

87 minutes (18) 2010
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Optimum DVD Region 2

RATING: 9/10
review by Matthew S. Dent

The Last Exorcism

Ever since The Blair Witch Project made it big in the cinemas, fake documentaries have been a favourite of horror films in particular. It's easy to see why; they're comparatively cheap to make, and they can put the viewer right in the centre of the action. If done right. Whilst I don't claim to have seen all examples, I've seen a fair few from all ends of the spectrum, ranging from [REC] style tours-de-force to Paranormal Activity style disappointments. The Last Exorcism fortunately falls more towards the positive end of the scale.

It follows Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), a priest specialising in exorcisms who has become disillusioned with his faith and his practice. He agrees to let a film crew (Iris Bahr and Adam Grimes) follow him on one last job to expose the sham of it all. Except, predictably, when he arrives at the home of farmer Louis (Louis Herthum), his not-very-welcoming son Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones), and his 'possessed' daughter Nell (Ashley Bell), not everything is as it seems. So far, so standard - but whereas the acting in this sort of things often feels, well, like acting, the cast of The Last Exorcism really perform well. Fabian is completely believable as Reverend Cotton, and Bell's performance as the possessed teenage girl is pretty inspiring. Between them they carry the believability of the whole film very well.

Cotton's warring doubt and desire to believe provide for a much deeper characterisation than is usually the norm with this sort of thing, and it's easy to see his dilemma caught between a job he deplores, and his need to support his family. Meanwhile, Bell manages to depict demonic position with a creepiness reminiscent, but far more subtle than, Linda Blair's performance in The Exorcist. Part of that may be down to the uncanny resemblance she bears to Michael Cera.

Another thing which I feel requires comment is the setting. The American deep south seems to be increasingly popular as a setting for horror films, and to be completely honest I can see why. Atmosphere is key in horror film, particularly in 'found footage' horror films, when the lack of a completely clear narrative can be me made to seem creepy, rather than annoying. And there's something familiar yet not-quite-right about the southern US which strikes the atmosphere perfectly.

The only real drawback to this is one inherent to the genre. Its portrayed nature as found-footage tends to leave little opportunity for resolution of the story. The cliff-hanger ending can work very well in horror, but when information hasn't been terribly forthcoming throughout (again, not necessarily a criticism) and the ending has such a hectic pace, it leaves the viewer wanting a bit more in the way of exposition. But for the viewer who is left hungry, I have to say that the special features included are something of a treat. Most films will bundle the trailer, a commentary, and maybe a 'making of' featurette. The Last Exorcism DVD gives us the above, along with interviews with the actors, audition videos (Bell's in particular is a must-see), and a mini-documentary examining demonic possession.

Overall, I'd say this DVD would make a seriously good buy. Not only is the film one of the better examples of 'found footage' horror films, but the makers have clearly gone the whole nine yards to provide their audience with as much material for their money as possible. This is one of the best horror films of 2010, in this reviewer's opinion, and if you're looking for some late evening entertainment you could do a hell of a lot worse.



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