Directed by: Daniel Stamm
Premise: A pseudo-documentary about an incredulous preacher (Patrick Fabian) who performs exorcisms as a hustle but finds his faith and lifestyle challenged when he encounters a young woman who may be suffering from mental illness or may actually be possessed.
What Works: The opening and middle of The Last Exorcism are very impressive as the film takes a new approach to the demonic possession story. The film does not take the reality of possession for granted and for most of its running time the reality of the young woman’s ailment is a carefully construed mystery. The film also makes clever use of real world facts, such as the tragic incident of an autistic boy killed during an exorcism and the Vatican’s renewed interest in the exorcism ritual in the last few years. These real life events give credibility to the fictional events of the story and create verisimilitude for the viewer. The performances in The Last Exorcism function in a similar way and have a lot of reality to them. Patrick Fabian is great as a huckster with a crisis of conscience and the film achieves something extraordinary throughout the second act of the story as the character simultaneously exploits the faithful but also shows compassion for the suffering. Ashley Bell is completely convincing as the traumatized young woman and she brings a sincerity and good heartedness to the role that makes her character very sympathetic.
What Doesn’t: As good as the first two acts of The Last Exorcism are, the film flies apart in its ending. Rather than following through on the themes and characters that the film spent most of its running time developing, The Last Exorcism goes for a cheap twist in the end that defies everything the story has told us to believe in. In the wake of other pseudo-documentary horror films like Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project, and [Rec], the ending comes off as a crass cliché.
Bottom Line: Because of its lousy ending, The Last Exorcism is a big disappointment. There is a lot to like throughout most of the film and hopefully there is an alternate ending waiting for the DVD release.
Episode: #304 (September 5, 2010)