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M Keala Milles, Jr.
M Keala Milles, Jr.
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Posted in Arts / Films & Movies / Thriller

The Last Exorcism: An Exercise in Futility

Sep. 9, 2010 2:04 am
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When I heard Eli Roth was making another movie, I got a little excited. While I am not deeply into the gore-fest that has become the horror genre, a la “Saw IV”, V, and VI, the intelligence of “Hostel” was pleasantly surprising. The Last Exorcism, then, promised to be his frightening, haunting foray into supernatural storylines. The name itself evokes images from the original “The Exorcist” movie, which is still, to this day, one of the scariest movies of all time. Unfortunately Roth doesn’t deliver on the promises that his earlier projects make; what you are left with is a haunting suspicion that you just wasted your time and ten bucks.

The story behind The Last Exorcism begins well. It is sold to the audience as a documentary film about a soothsaying preacher who sells false faith to yokels with a suitcase of parlor tricks. Already, you can see that Roth’s brilliance is shining through, since horror movies made with a single hand held camera have been somewhat successful of late (think “The Blair Witch Project” and “Paranormal Activity”—although the latter was also a severe disappointment). Similarly, the premise is an easy sell to the audience, who now will not expect crazy special effects, but an intimate look at people dealing with spiritual demons. This should make the drama that ensues more believable.

Indeed, this is what you soon find, as Cotton Marcus, the preacher (played deviously by Patrick Fabian), is whisked away to a Podunk town in Louisiana to exorcise a demon from a young girl. Of course, he thinks that there is no demon and that he can con them out of money while he uses his Catholic magic to heal her. He quickly learns that he is in way over his head.

This is where the original Exorcist starts to get really good. During that classic story you feel grossed out, nearly sick to your stomach, and creepily ready to bolt from your seat, but the only reason I wanted to move during The Last Exorcism was to leave altogether. Much like “Paranormal Activity”, the promise of fright is never realized, and instead you are left with an unnerving feeling that this isn’t going to go quite as you had hoped (perhaps paralleling the despair of Cotton and his film crew?). Despite surprisingly stellar performances from newcomer Ashley Bell (in the lead role of Nell, the possessed girl) and Louis Herthum (who plays her increasingly suspicious father), nothing ever seems to come to fruition. Even in the end—when certain secrets are revealed—there is no closure, which seems to be somewhat of an homage to Blair Witch’s dark turn of events, though less effective.

The Last Exorcism seems less of an exorcising of traditional horror movies and more of an exercise by which Roth is stretching his cinematic legs. It’s not scary at all, though it is creepy in some places. It doesn’t need to have more blood or dismemberment or bodily fluids, a la “Poltergeist” and “The Exorcist”; what is missing is the heart and soul of the artist that he usually puts in his films (see “Inglorious Basterds” and “Grindhouse”, and even—dare I say it—“Cabin Fever”). Although Ashley Bell’s performance attempts to redeem the film, her unnerving contortions could not, unfortunately, reconfigure my overall opinion. While this movie does have some historical reference (particularly to the Salem witch trials) there is no actual reference to it. Instead, you feel like this is a moment in history that might have occurred, but in the end you wonder why someone felt that it was interesting enough to share…because it isn’t.

 
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