Friday, January 21, 2011

Film Yap: The Last Exorcism

Exorcisms in horror films haven’t had the expansion as other myths. Vampires have had a whole collage of stories evolved now to romances. Even though it came out almost 40 years ago, the movie The Exorcist remains incredibly vibrant in people’s minds and it’s difficult to break away from it. With The Last Exorcism it seems like it is falling into the same tropes.

Underrated TV actor Patrick Fabian is Cotton Marcus. He’s the pastor who loves the theatrics of religion. He has realized throughout the years that do not have much faith and this is making his job difficult. So he agrees to be a subject of a documentary exposing his biggest problem with Christianity, which are exorcisms. He has performed several of them and it is all a fraud put together by special effects.

So the documentary crew and Cotton travel out to Louisiana for the “last exorcism.” This is the one that will show how the process is done. From this point the plot could be on autopilot. Will this look at evil be the thing to restore Cotton’s faith? That’s where this film really succeeds. The screenplay by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland provides several impressive twists that really make this movie something special.

It uses the expectations of the familiar story to subvert it into new directions. This movie has more in common with films like The Blair Witch Project and a few 70s small town horror films over The Exorcist. Beyond being very clever with the story, director Daniel Stramm avoids the typical jump scares but uses his mockumentary format to create a very uneasy vibe about this Louisiana house. There are very little special effects in the film and that makes it more realistic.

That realism is what draws people to demonic stories. Most people do not believe in werewolves or risen mummies, but demons are something that factors into a lot of religious mythology. So a mockumentary format is more organic of a choice and is pulled off better than recent entries to the subgenre. Part of this is due to the fantastic performances by Fabian and Ashley Bell. Too many mockumentaries have the characters ignore the camera too much, but these actors really do a good job about naturally responding while still remember every moment is being recorded.

The ending of the movie is very refreshing and unnerving. It presents just enough questions to have a healthy debate without leaving like nothing was resolved. This story may still rely on the stale plot to tell this story, but at least there is plenty of fresh material at its core.

The DVD is full with cool features. There is a very good making-featurette that showed their philosophies on how to give this a new visual take. It is also the calmest place to see Eli Roth, who produced this film. There is also a creepy short looking at real exorcism, equipped with a title card saying that religious officials have advised them to include on the DVD a protection prayer because watching this could influence real demons. So that prayer is also available to recite. There are also two commentary tracks, one with the producers and one with the director and cast.

Film: 4 Yaps

Extras: 4 Yaps

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