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The Films Of The LA Film Fest: 'The Last Exorcism'

Piya Sinha-Roy, Holly Butcher |
July 5, 2010 | 7:35 p.m. PDT

Entertainment Editor and Senior Music Editor


'The Last Exorcism'

(USA, 2010, 90 mins)

Ashley Bell as Nell Sweetzer in 'The Last Exorcism' (LAFF/Image.net)
Ashley Bell as Nell Sweetzer in 'The Last Exorcism' (LAFF/Image.net)

Not another exorcism movie I hear you say? At the outdoors screening of ‘The Last Exorcism’ (produced by Eli Roth, director of Hostel), I was inclined to have the same thought, as I settled down to what I expected would be a typically Roth-style gory sadistic thriller. But I was mistaken.

German director Daniel Stamm was handpicked by Roth to direct ‘The Last Exorcism’ and the result is an intriguing docu-horror tale. The film follows a charismatic evangelical minister who wants to prove that exorcisms are false – and armed with his cross that magically emits smoke and an iPod filled with ghostly sounds, Revered Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) sets out to perform his last exorcism at the home of an alleged possession.

The young girl being possessed is played convincingly by Ashley Bell, who inhabits the innocence of her character’s sheltered upbringing. There is something unsettling about her father and brother, played by Louis Hurthum and Caleb Landry Jones, and for Jones’ first major role, he inhabits his character well. The fear factor initially comes from what the camera doesn’t quite capture, and the distorted happenings within the Sweetzer household aren’t quite comprehensive. But as events take a turn and progress into grotesque demonic possession, it is Bell’s character, Nell Sweetzer, who starts to distort physically into frightening shapes and terrify those around her. 

While this film doesn’t break ground in the exorcism-horror genre, Stamm and Roth both were adamant to stress that they didn’t want to remake ‘The Exorcist’. Instead, they reinvented the genre for a modern-day audience, and by incorporating documentary-style realism made so popular by ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and made so successful with the recent phenomenon of 'Paranormal Activity', they have done a sufficient job - after all, who doesn't like a good dose of faux-real-archive footage?! If you’re a fan of Roth’s previous work, you might be disappointed at the lack of torturous gore, but what he and Stamm don’t include in bloody detail, they make up for with suspense-filled moments and some truly terrifying scares. 

Verdict: Watch it outdoors in the dark on a giant screen – your screams won’t feel so girly. 

Ranking: 3.5/5

- Piya Sinha-Roy


'The Last Exorcism' will scare the demons out of you.

That is, until the hype takes over and its novelty is crushed with spoilers (except this one, of course). Exorcism and demon movies are not original. Part of the problem is that they peaked with the 1973 phenomenon, "The Exorcist," which was terrifying and new. Now that horror fans have worshipped that film and book for decades (along with many spin-offs), it takes a different brand of scary to satisfy.

Enter the horror-"documentary" format. Films like ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and ‘Paranormal Activity’ found a new way to frighten: create a faux documentary that makes it look like witches and demon possession happen to ordinary people instead of pretty on-screen actors. Unfortunately, it doesn't take much to realize you're just watching a movie and not a real experience, especially after the reviews. So even with a few jumps and thrills, these "documentaries" can be ruined through too much word-of-mouth.

So then why bother seeing 'The Last Exorcism' if it is just a combination of the dated demon possession flick and the fake documentary? 

Well, it's good. The story might not be anything unseen before, but the cast acts the hell out of the movie. (And there is a twist.) 

Patrick Fabian plays Cotton Marcus, an evangelical preacher who favors his pocketbook over morality. He puts tremendous energy into the role, perfecting the cadences of a sermon as he puts on a show to his followers. (Marcus supposedly performed his first exorcism at age 10 and has been spreading the Word of God since before he could talk. See his "blog" for more.) 

Throughout the film, we see many sides of Cotton Marcus: he's a flashy pseudo-exorcist who travels around performing fake exorcisms for cash (he even brings his own devil sound effects); he's conflicted as he realizes the harm of his ways (this "documentary" is to expose his lies and finish off his career as an "exorcist" with one final exorcism); and he's a compassionate father figure when he tries to save young Nell from what's truly haunting her. Fabian uses all these elements of Cotton, and the result is an honest portrayal of striving for redemption after questionable intentions.

Ashley Bell is Nell Sweetzer, the young woman thought to be possessed by a demon. When Cotton first meets Nell, she is a soft-spoken, sweet girl who knows her pleases and thank yous. But then we see her change into - literally - a demon. It's a classic role of good vs. evil, and Bell nails it through smiles and sobs. Her dark brown eyes turn devilish, and her limbs contort into very frightening possessions. She is what makes the movie horrifying.

Caleb Jones plays Nell's tortured brother, Caleb Sweetzer. Caleb threatens Cotton and his film crew right as they pull into the Sweetzer farm, and from that point on, the viewer understands his role as the evil child. Jones gets the role down. He stares creepily at the camera, which sometimes makes you wonder who is actually possessed. The filmmakers and cast of 'The Last Exorcism' know what they are doing, even if what they are doing has been perfected before. 

Verdict: Go see in theatres on Aug. 27, but try not to read too much beforehand as not to spoil the suspense!   

Rating: 4 / 5

- Holly Butcher


To see the trailer for 'The Last Exorcism', click here.


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