A blog exploring the sexy, shocking, surreal, and silly side of horror films.

August 17, 2010

The Last Exorcism (2010) -- Not the film you expect!

The Last Exorcism (2010) 

Director: Daniel Stamm
Producer: Eli Roth

Don't believe the ads. The Last Exorcism is not the film you're expecting. I too scoffed at the PG13 rating (how scary could it be?). At the Toronto After Dark film festival, I went into The Last Exorcism half-expecting another tepid supernatural tale like A Haunting in Connecticut. Instead, we were delivered a tightly scripted, superbly acted, and atmospheric psychological thriller where the dread is subtle and the story walks the tightrope of the uncanny before plunging into frightening unforeseen territory.


The film is presented as a documentary of exorcist Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian). A former priest and self-confessed showman, Marcus is an incredibly charming fraud, but a fraud with a cause -- to expose exorcism as a scam. As a young man, he followed in his father's footsteps by becoming a minister and performing exorcisms for the faithful, but he lost his faith and realized that exorcisms were nothing more than a psychosomatic service given to the mentally ill and delusional by playing on their expectations and beliefs in demons. There are no demons, he reasons. The Last Exorcism is the documentation of such a scam, in which he will show on camera how easily fraudulent exorcists can beguile the faithful. He travels to the Sweetzer farm in New Orleans where a father believes his sweet young daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) is possessed by a violent demon. Is she really possessed by evil, or are her bizarre night walks, raging outbursts, and grotesque bodily contortions the symptom of mental illness brought on by family abuse and medieval religious teachings of an overbearing father? Is it faith she needs to cure her or a psychiatrist? Marcus finds himself in a no-win situation as his lies complicate matters and the situation degrades into a harrowing night of bloodshed and secrets.

Rating: 4 / 5


The Last Exorcism is a film about atmosphere. Filmed like a documentary, the film thrusts the audience into a number of carefully chosen POV sequences while also acting as a witness to Marcus's confessions. The audience bonds with the characters quickly. Because of the POV style, audiences enter the room with the characters, filling each scene with expectation and the fear of the unknown around every dark corner. There are some jump scares and one or two gory moments, but the truly shocking aspects of the film come from the moments when the mounting tension breaks and what you thought was real both is and is not real. Then the foreshadowed comes to pass in an entirely unexpected and horrifying way. 

Actress Ashley Bell, producer Eli Roth, and actor Patrick Fabian
Rather than offering a roller coaster of cheap thrills, The Last Exorcism burrows into your mind and simmers. It's a film I enjoyed in the theater but now, thinking back on it, enjoy even more for its subtleties and psychological manipulation.

Do not go in expecting a balls-to-the-wall display of supernatural phenomena. It's not that kind of movie. It's better than that and plays many of its cards close to the chest. Be prepared or psychological horror, and be prepared to think about what you're seeing on screen. That will make The Last Exorcism a rewarding experience and a good note of horror on which to cap the summer movie season.


  1. This is really surprising, especially coming from Roth who I don't normally associate with atmosphere. I'm intrigued.

  2. Well, he is the producer and, although Roth's had input, I think a lot of what succeeds in the movie can be chalked up to the director and screenwriters.



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