Genre: Horror, Drama, Thriller
Directed by: Daniel Stamm
Starring: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr
The question is often asked about the believability of God. Of course we have those who fully support the idea of someone or something looking over us, testing us or leading us, but we also have those atheists in complete opposition who argue profusely that we’re the leaders of our own lives. There’s no right or wrong. People believe what they want to believe. With The Last Exorcism, director Daniel Stamm shows two sides of the coin using very unique methods. Think Cloverfield meets The Exorcist attempting to address the question – is there a God?
How Daniel Stamm tells this story is via a handheld documentary about a local priest, Father Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), who during the set-up openly admits that he’s unsure as to whether or not he actually believes in God. His speciality is performing exorcisms but he states that he refuses to believe in demons and simply does it to help people; if people believe they’re possessed than convincing them that they aren’t is the same as healing them. He decides to finally open the sham that is exorcism when a colleague performs a ritual that kills a child. As Father Marcus knows exorcisms to be fake, he decides to expose the conspiracy before more children die. He does this via this documentary where he will attend to his final exorcism and prove it’s all make believe.
Following the life of a priest in a documentary style works wonders for the themes of the film. It’s as if this documentary team are trying to catch God in the act or even prove that he isn’t really there. Where this aids the film is when we witness Father Marcus clearly setting up his fake exorcism via booming speakers and trick wires. You question as to whether a man of God can be so sneaky but he argues that he’s helping them.
The narrative twists and turns throughout and doesn’t come down on either side of the fence. When a supposed act of God has happened there’s always a solution as to how it really could have happened, such as murdered cattle in a farmer’s garden, and of course as the film goes on we start to question what Father Marcus has set up and what is actually out of his control. As you can imagine, the man of God is soon to be shocked at the existence of a spiritual being when the poor young girl he has come to cure shows signs of real possession.
The script and direction feel tight and there’s plenty to keep you guessing. The performance of Ashley Bell, who plays Nell the Farmer’s daughter under possession, is frightening and utterly believable. The look in her eyes, the croak in her voice and the bravery in her improvisation brings depth to a character that’s the object of evil’s desires. Patrick Fabian brings a grounded persona to Father Marcus. He refuses to become preachy and forceful and instead attempts to suggest this belief in God could well be complete fiction. Louis Herthum and Caleb Landry Jones both ooze creepiness as the farmer and son and it’s these two characters who mainly bring horror to the production.
Where the film is let down is that it isn’t quite scary enough. Comparisons will be drawn to The Blair Witch Project and much of the scares are delivered in the same way. The climax also falls flat and many scare opportunities are bypassed and missed, leading to a lacklustre final encounter.
The Last Exorcism is certainly worth a watch to see the creativity gone into the film and the religious trickery it suggests. Just don’t expect to be squirming in your seat or covering your eyes in horror.