The Last Exorcism Fails to Expel Quality Horror

I don’t have a problem with the “found footage” style of filmmaking.  I think, when done well, it’s a fun way of telling a story.  That being said, there are the other times when one just has to wonder why someone would still be filming, which tends break the tension of the situation.  I had this problem during The Last Exorcism.  There has to be a solid 40 minutes of movie here, but for the most part, the movie just didn’t deliver well enough, with both the problems I had with in the handling of the film style and the really terrible “rug-pull” ending.

Cotton Marcus: We’re looking for the Sweetzer farm.
Caleb: You wanna make a U-turn…and then I want you to go back where you came from.

Set in the South, we start in Baton Rouge, following Reverend Cotton Marcus, played by Patrick Fabian.  Marcus is an evangelical minister who seems to function more as a showman than a devout man of god.  We learn that he has performed many exorcisms over the years, but has become somewhat disillusioned, deciding to handle one last exorcism case and letting a documentary team follow him along.  After choosing a letter at random and skimming the details, Marcus and the crew head out to a farm in Georgia.  There, he must deal with a teenage girl, Nell, played by Ashley Bell, who is supposedly afflicted by a demon.  At first, we experience the Reverend Marcus’ style of exorcism, as he reveals the secrets of his handiwork, but the situation may call for much more effort as Nell may truly be under deep control of evil.

Directed by Daniel Stamm and produced by Eli Roth (who has made films that range from “meh” to okay, but has apparently risen to the ranks of a big name over the title) have put together a film that is certainly slick and effective enough for the easy-to-scare teen crowd, which is why it’s PG-13 and released during a time with little competition (meaning we can expect a sequel – The Last Last Exorcism, or a prequel The Next to Last Exorcism), but really not much more than a reason to have a girl walk around a house creepily with no lights on.

To the film’s credit, it does a good job of building up the characters and creating some tension before settling into the real “scares.”  The (long) opening of the film establishes Marcus as a likable man, despite the way he portrays his beliefs.  He is certainly not trying to make fun of the religion he is a reverend of, but he stretches the line of being a fraud and a healer.  We get a little from the town that Nell is from too, but are then given plenty of back-story about her family at the farm.  All of this happens scare-free and is done effectively enough where I would have been content watching this as one half-hour TV show special.  But then we get to the first exorcism (a clearly and purposefully fake one), which only leads to everyone realizing that this is no time for games.

With that character development established, the film then tries to veer into horror territory, but honestly there isn’t much to be seen here.  I can always appreciate a film that builds tension (see 2009’s House of the Devil) but this film doesn’t do much to pay it off.  Creepy possession POV scenes and the standard “demon-talks-through-corrupted-victim” scenes are nice and all, but more could have helped the film.  There is really only about 15 minutes of the movie (I would say) that is devoted to being legitimately scary, as we deal with possessed Nell moving through the house, with lights going in and out, while the characters nervously wonder what is happening, despite continuing to move forward.

And that’s really my problem; shooting in this format, the film doesn’t give enough reason, beyond the very idea of making this a movie, to keep these characters involved in the action.  Other, more successful films, may have suffered from this problem as well, but were more entertaining to downplay those thoughts.  Here, you literally have a disillusioned and skeptical priest and a clearly nervous crew continuing to move through an area for no real reason, beyond the fact that a camera is involved.

My other problem is its ending.  Of course I won’t spoil anything here, but suffice it to say, the film could have still garnered a recommendation from me if something different from the last 10 minutes of this film took place.  While the events that take place don’t come completely out of left field, it’s definitely way more abrupt than one would hope and doesn’t do the film any favors.  The massive groans I heard in the theater certainly solidified my opinions on this matter.  Also, why did a “found footage” movie have a score?

Overall, if you’re really desperate for cheap scares, this is one way to get them.  There some easy thrills, some creepiness, and quite a bit of humor actually, but the film doesn’t pull itself together well enough to be anything greater.

Louis: If you can’t save my daughter’s soul, then I will.


Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

11 Responses to “The Last Exorcism Fails to Expel Quality Horror”

  1. Brian White

    Well said Aaron. I agree with just about everything you had to say. I take comfort in the fact that I’m not the only one who felt cheated by the ending. I think I let out a few choice words when the film ended like it did. But you talk about scares? Please tell me where those were. 🙂

  2. Aaron Neuwirth

    *slight spoilers*

    I’m not ruining much, but I just have to say, one of the last shots involving the Reverend pulling his sh*t together and taking on the fire was pretty bad ass. I still don’t like this movie, and the ending is crap, but this is really the only place I can point that out.

  3. Brian White

    @ Aaron. I know. I’m just giving you a hard time 🙂

  4. Aaron Neuwirth

    I use “scares” loosely, but *slight spoilers* when Nell gets a hold of the camera and when they have to go into her room, which leads to her roaming the house.

    It’s the kind of thing, as you said, has more to do with purposefully going for jump scares, but I did think that some good tension was built leading to these scenes (the way Nell would stare at the camera man), but just didn’t pay off nearly enough. I have a friend who sees these types of movies with me, and generally screams. He did little screaming during this film.

  5. Gerard Iribe

    69% on rotten tomatoes says otherwise, Aaron.

    Just sayin’.

  6. Brian White

    Hey…I’m not going to say I’m not the minority here. I loved the film until the last 10 minutes. Those last ten minutes were so awful that it made the film completely unwatchable again to me. Point in case, bring on BOUNTY HUNTER again, because I’m never watching this one again. The title has it right. This is THE LAST EXORCISM for me.

  7. Gregg Senko

    More bad press on this film. I will pass, even on a rental. One thing, Aaron; the title of this article is misleading. It says it fails to expel or get rid of quality. It sounds like the quality has already been removed. “Fails To Expel Bad Quality?”

  8. Aaron Neuwirth

    My attempts to be “Punny” are only so effective. I was trying to imply that the idea of horror being released onto the audience was not properly achieved or “expeled.” I’m just not using the word as well as it could be, but then again, the movie isn’t very good, so I didn’t put much thought behind it.

  9. Brian White

    Aaron – ” I’m just not using the word as well as it could be, but then again, the movie isn’t very good, so I didn’t put much thought behind it.”

    Brian – Concur!

  10. Bob Ignizio

    I couldn’t disagree more. I thought this was a great, fresh take on the demonic possession genre. This isn’t a film about jump out of your seat scares. It’s more a cerebral horror film that keeps you guessing right up to the end.

    It’s that ending that has gotten the most negative response, and while I feel it could have been stronger, overall I thought the film concluded okay, which dropped it from a 4 out of 4 to a 3 out of 4 for me.

    I think a lot of the problem some people are having with this movie is that wasn’t what they were expecting. People wanted something like ‘The Exorcist’, and while there are obviously some similarities, this is ultimately a very different film with a very different agenda. I know the trailers sold this as a balls out horror film, but that’s the marketing department’s problem, not the movie’s.

  11. Aaron Neuwirth

    I’m glad you enjoyed it more than I (and Brian did). The problem I had wasn’t with the premise or what I perceived the film to be (I got what I was expecting), it was the fact that the film did try to be cheap, “jump out of your seat scares,” and the elements that could have made it work as a cerebral horror film were not effective enough to give me chills. All of that, and I didn’t like the way they employed the documentary approach, which was the main thing I addressed in the review. I enjoy at good 50 minutes of this movie well enough, but not the whole thing.