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>> Friday, September 3, 2010

The power of Christ compels you! (to see this film)

"If you believe in God, you must believe in the Devil." That's the tagline for The Last Exorcism, a film about every aspect of religion from those that believe they don't believe, and those that can't believe that they actually believe. If that sounds confusing then your in the same boat as Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) - the subject of a documentary film that focuses on the hoax that is exorcism.

Marcus wasn't always a non-believer, in fact he was a child preacher born and raised by his father (also a man of God). Marcus used to perform exorcisms with his father and took over the family business as his father retired. Shortly thereafter, Marcus read an article about some rednecks somewhere that killed their child attempting an exorcism, all in the name of "Gettin' dat blasted demon outta 'er!" That's when he quit exorcisms all together - a job he was quite good at. Early in the film he shows all his tricks like a proud magician who's retiring - from the demon sounds someone will hear, to a shaking bed and the smoking cross he uses to place the proverbial cherry atop his glimmering exorcism sundae.

Marcus continued preaching though, as it was a "job (he) was doing so long and was good at" that there was no reason to quit. Plus he liked to perform even though he ceased to believe in the Almighty. At one sermon he even quotes his mother's banana bread recipe verbatim and simply spouts "Amen!" after and the "congregation goes wild!" - as they say. On top of all this he continues to receive exorcism requests via email, phone and snail mail - all saying the same thing - "possessed, livestock dead, strange sounds at night, please help, etc". Marcus takes one of those letters from the top of the pile and decides it will be his last exorcism, which (as aforementioned) he will use as an example of why its all a magic act used to scare people into wanting and needing religion.

Marcus follows the letter to the Sweetzer farm, where he meets Nell (Ashley Bell), a girl so sweet and naive that a demon could easily enter her soul and never leave. Well, just so happens... (insert non spoiler here). After an all out bells and whistles exorcism on Nell, Marcus deems her healed, collects his cash and is about to leave the Sweetzer farm forever - when some strange things start to happen. This is where the movie really starts.

The most prominent thing your likely to notice about the way Ashley Bell performs as Nell, is the fact that no CG or special effects were used to enhance her 'demonic possession'. In fact, its simply Bell bending in ways no normal human should. It works and boy howdy, it's damn freaky. Bell sells her performance well here and I liked it almost more than I liked Linda Blair's performance in The Exorcist (1973). Now, don't get me wrong, I LOVE The Exorcist. To say this is better is mere apples and oranges - they're of the same kind and only compliment each other. But Linda Blair's performance became scarier because of makeup and special effects, etc. Ashley Bell however, relies on nothing more than an empty look in her eyes and some double joints. It's a more organic performance and that's what I really liked about it.

What I also found interesting about The Last Exorcism was the way the story was told. The film had amazing foreshadowing and subtle hints about upcoming events. What was nice about it was they were subtle enough that you didn't know what they amounted to until the end. There may even be more little things I missed that will only be discovered upon a second watching. The other thing I found titillating was the idea that The Last Exorcism may not be as one dimensional as it appears to be. Throughout the film Marcus keeps on mentioning that his work (preaching, exorcising) is all based one key factor - illusion. Yet people blindly believe whatever he has to say. This film completely centers itself around the idea of illusion and uses it to its advantage. Is everything Marcus is seeing real or is it he who has fallen subject to smoke and mirrors? What is really happening with Nell? The other question surrounds the ending, which I'll leave you to see and debate.

Speaking of the ending - the only note I do want to make on it is that at the point the film ended, I could have easily stood watching another twenty minutes of The Last Exorcism without thinking it was too long. Instead, it sort of just ended in a way I wasn't really happy with. Other than this though, I had absolutely no problems with everything leading up to it. If you can recognize everything that came before and sort of push the early ending out of your head, this film will make you giddy.

I give The Last Exorcism an open door, and if you enjoyed The Exorcist or, more recently, 2005's The Exorcism of Emily Rose - you'll definitely have fun with this. I got jolted a few times and at the very least, I unexpectedly laughed more than once at the moments the filmmakers actually wanted you to. Its an all around enjoyable scare-fest. Praise the Lord and alleluia!

*Stills courtesy of Strike Entertainment


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