×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Last Exorcism

"The Last Exorcism" makes first-rate use of religious doubt and religious extremism.

With:
With: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, Caleb Landry Jones, Tony Bentley.

Possessed by suspense, talent, brains and a gothic sense of humor, “The Last Exorcism” makes first-rate use of religious doubt and religious extremism to concoct a novel horror-thriller clever enough to seduce unbelievers while satisfying the bloodlust of its congregation/fanbase. While spasmodic handheld camerawork has become increasingly tiresome as a shock device-cum-convention, it’s deployed here with enormous restraint and skill by d.p. Zoltan Honti, and helmer Daniel Stamm knows when to trim the visual frills and stick to the demonic vs. the divine. Expect collection plates to fill up for the Aug. 27 release, and to hear hosannas from Lionsgate.

Employing the by-now-familiar pseudo-documentary device (“REC,” “Cloverfield,” “Paranormal Activity” and their grandfather, “The Blair Witch Project”), “The Last Exorcism” uses the same shtick to far greater effect, especially in terms of narrative exposition. When Bible-thumping Rev. Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) allows Iris (Iris Bahr) and her unseen cameraman to make a documentary about him, it requires the full telling of his story, and Cotton has a bad case of the Stanley McChrystals: Penitent after years of sham exorcisms and pseudo-fundamentalism, he can’t shut up, revealing everything about his shameful past, including his genial contempt for the poor suckers who plead (and pay) for his anti-demonic skills.

Cotton can predict their stories before he even reads their letters, like the one he gets from farmer Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum): “My livestock are being killed,” it says. “The Devil is inside my daughter. Come, Reverend, and save my farm.” So Cotton and Iris and the camera head to New Orleans, ostensibly to snooker another poor sap.

It’s a lengthy setup for what any viewer will see is a nightmare on the horizon, and Fabian pulls it off with his charming/smarmy portrayal of Cotton, who is comically resigned to making this possession confession. The screenplay, by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland, is extremely smart, but Fabian’s timing gives it added sparkle, and the actor shifts gears smoothly when things at the Sweetzer farm don’t quite turn out the way he expects — which is an understatement.

“The Last Exorcism” reps a potential breakout for almost all involved. Excepting producers Eli Roth and the “Children of Men” trio of Eric Newman, Marc Abraham and Thomas A. Bliss, few of the principals have extensive credits, especially in the realm of apocalyptic horror. That includes German-born helmer Stamm (“A Necessary Death”), who makes fluid use of the potentially problematic technique of making a movie from a cameraman’s p.o.v. In this ramshackle aesthetic, the chaos, erratic movement and paradoxically limited field of vision are what convey a visceral sense of unease. The trick is to not induce motion sickness (see “Cloverfield”), and to lend the conceit some integrity and plausibility.

Stamm pulls it off without sacrificing either the rhythms of his movie or his characters, who are well played across the board. Fabian is terrific, and Ashley Bell, as the possessed Nell (or is she?) is the quavering embodiment of defiled innocence. Herthum’s Louis, a drunk and a fundamentalist, is quietly menacing, and there’s something vaguely “Deliverance”-like about Caleb Landry Jones’ portrayal of Louis’ son, Caleb. (Why almost every character is named after the actor who plays him or her remains a mystery.)

While the particulars of the story are engrossing and the momentum nonstop, the filmmaking itself provides a certain mischief. During Nell’s initial exorcism, replete with seemingly satanic growling and ominous thunder, the film cuts to Cotton outside the house, explaining to Iris how he’s executed the special effects he’s used during the sham ritual we’ve just seen. But he has something up his sleeve, and so do the filmmakers: What we’re seeing here is the edited version of the movie we’re still watching being made, and which — if you buy the illusion “The Last Exorcism” is perpetrating — may never get made. So who’s the editor of the movie-within-the-movie that we’re watching? Could it be … Satan?

Tech credits are tops, particularly the sound and the very effective score by Nathan Barr (“True Blood,” “Grindhouse”).

The Last Exorcism

Production: A Lionsgate release of a Strike Entertainment, StudioCanal presentation of an Arcade Pictures production. Produced by Eric Newman, Eli Roth, Marc Abraham, Thomas A. Bliss. Executive producers, Huck Botko, Andrew Gurland, Phil Altmann, Ron Halpern. Co-producers, Patty Long, Gabrielle Neimand. Co-executive producers, Doug Plasse, Patrick Curd. Directed by Daniel Stamm. Screenplay, Huck Botko, Andrew Gurland.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Zoltan Honti; editor, Shilpa Khanna; music, Nathan Barr; production designer, Andrew Bofinger; set decorator, David Hingle; costume designer, Shauna Leone; sound (Dolby), B.J. Lehn; re-recording mixers, Jonathan Wales, Richard Kitting; supervising sound designer, Michael Baird; special effects makeup, Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger; visual effects supervisors, Thomas Tannenberger, Olcun Tan; visual effects, Gradient Effects; stunt coordinators, Trace Cheramie, Steve Picerni; assistant director, Joel Nishimine; casting, Lauren Bass. Reviewed at Los Angeles Film Festival (Ford Amphitheater Screenings), June 24, 2010. MPAA rating: PG-13. Running time: 90 MIN.

Cast: With: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, Caleb Landry Jones, Tony Bentley.

More Scene

  • Nicole KidmanWarner Bros. Pictures World Premiere

    How James Wan Convinced Nicole Kidman to Star in 'Aquaman'

    While some actors dream of playing a superhero, that wasn’t the case for the cast of “Aquaman.” “I knew nothing about this,” Amber Heard, who plays Mera in the James Wan-directed action film, told Variety at the movie’s Los Angeles premiere. “I knew nothing about comic books in general. I didn’t know anything about this [...]

  • Hugh Jackman'To Kill a Mockingbird' Broadway

    'To Kill a Mockingbird's' Starry Opening: Oprah, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and More

    The Shubert Theatre in New York City last was filled on Thursday night with Oscar winners, media titans, and, of course, Broadway legends who came out for the opening of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The starry guest list included Oprah Winfrey, Barry Diller, “Les Misérables” co-stars Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Gayle King, [...]

  • Clint Eastwood and Alison Eastwood'The Mule'

    Clint Eastwood: Why Alison Eastwood Came Out of Acting Retirement for Her Dad

    Clint Eastwood’s daughter Alison Eastwood was done with acting after appearing in 2014’s “Finding Harmony.” Or so she thought. More Reviews Film Review: 'Nona' Tallinn Film Review: 'Winter's Night' It was a Friday night and she and her husband were heading to dinner when her father’s producer Sam Moore called. “He [says], ‘You know, your [...]

  • John CenaSports Illustrated Sportsperson of the

    John Cena on WWE's Acceptance by Hollywood and the Professional Sports World

    John Cena says the WWE is finally getting the attention it deserves by Hollywood and the professional sports world. “I’m just glad that no longer are we looked down upon, not only by the sport industry, but by the performing arts industry,” Cena told Variety on Tuesday night in Beverly Hills at Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of [...]

  • Steve Carell Welcome to Marwen

    Steve Carell on New Film 'Welcome to Marwen' and Reprising His 'Anchorman' Character

    In 2000, Mark Hogancamp was nearly beaten to death by five men outside of a bar. Left with brain damage and little money to afford therapy, Hogancamp began creating miniature doll versions of himself, his friends, and his attackers as a way to cope. This true story inspired the 2010 documentary “Marwencol” and the upcoming [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content