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Film review: 'The Last Exorcism' not that scary

August 31, 2010|By BOB GARVER / Special to The Herald-Mail

Walking into "The Last Exorcism," it was only natural that I expected to see a complete rip-off of 1973's "The Exorcist." But I was wrong.

The film is in fact a complete rip-off of 1999's "The Blair Witch Project."

Both films are seen through the eyes of documentary film crews and more specifically shaky handheld cameras. But "The Last Exorcism" is so unconvincing as a realistic documentary that one gets the feeling that the filmmakers only used the format as an excuse to save money.

The film stars Patrick Fabian (a graduate of Cedar Cliff High School) as the Rev. Cotton Marcus. Marcus is a charismatic preacher who cares more about how he delivers his sermons than their actual content. He is also a professional exorcist Other professional exorcists have gotten sloppy and violent lately, and he is choosing this time to retire. He is going to do one "Last Exorcism" and show all of his tricks to the film crew so the world can see how fake the process is.

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Marcus' attitude toward exorcisms (and the attitude of most exorcists) is that if a person is crazy enough to believe they are demon-possessed, they are crazy enough to believe that words from a preacher are enough to drive it out of their body, and thus they will be cured. Marcus throws in some homemade special effects to make it more convincing.

There's just one problem.

Nell (Ashley Bell), the girl he's supposed to exorcize, may actually be demon-possessed. And the demon isn't leaving because of Marcus's hocus pocus.

The best parts of the film center around Nell's actions, thanks mainly to Bell's truly terrifying performance. Nell twists her neck and back at sickening angles, and entertanment media has reported that it isn't special effects, but that Bell is actually limber enough to pull them off.

The most memorable scene in the film is one where she steals the crew's camera, takes it out to the family barn, and uses the camera to beat a victim in a white coat to death (the coat doesn't stay white for long, if you follow me). We get a magnificent first-person view of the proceedings.

Whatever scary good fun there might be during certain scenes, it is completely undone by the rest of the film. For example, the crew is stupid for filming absolutely everything. At one point, the cameraman is being chased, and he films the ground (carrying the heavy camera the whole time) as he runs away. The shot would have worked just as well if he put down the camera and the shot was of him running off into the distance. It's just so hard to be scared when you're yelling "Idiot!" at the screen.

Director Daniel Stamm inexplicably feels the need to have scary movie music playing in the background of scary scenes. Silence from isolation should be his friend (and our enemy) during these scenes, we don't need to be thinking about professional sound mixers adding in music. The whole point of the first-person camera style is to make the viewer feel that the story is happening to them. Scary music doesn't happen in the real world, unless you're at a tacky Halloween House, which is how the film ends up feeling.

I feel the need to comment on the film's PG-13 rating. How did a film this violent get the same rating as "Iron Man"? The film should have earned an R based on its gore and violence alone, not to mention a sexual term blurted out during the now-standard obscene tirade by the possessed girl.

The audience at the screening I attended had more than its fair share of preteen girls who were obviously very disturbed by what they saw. It's one thing to be upset by films that have business being upsetting, but "The Last Exorcism" is mostly too ridiculous and poorly made to warrant the respect that comes out of legitimate fear.

"The Last Exorcism" is rated PG-13 for disturbing violent content, terror, some sexual references, and thematic material. Its runtime is 88 minutes.

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