The Last Exorcism (2010)
What I don’t understand with critics nowadays is the tendency to over-read their intended materials. They dissect not-so-critical aspects, and leave the more critical ones aside. The end product? Misreading.
After number of negative reviews on Daniel Stamm’s THE LAST EXORCISM (2010), I must say that my hypothesis did not prove me wrong. Reviewers have slightly shifted from being critically de-constructive to becoming self-regulating pedantic scholars.
In our generation, horror movies have mostly taken a new shift from the usual screaming-on-the-top-of-your-lungs structures to a relatively new genre still open for exploration. The found-footage technique has found its way surviving from the early years of the 80s in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) to Oren Peli’s PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2010) and AREA 51 (2010). Despite its creative concept, this technique continually requires writers and directors to explore other aspects on character and story developments.
But EXORCISM proved that there are other means of presenting a clearer perspective on the horror-found-footage drama. Despite its limited budget, Stamm’s approach to presentation can be more of an additional reference to future film makers, who’d want to further explore, rather than shelving it until it becomes a classic.
Set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a young preacher Reverend Marcus Cotton (Patrick Fabian), wants to prove that demon possessions are but your ordinary psychological traumas. His unconvinced stand on exorcisms have led him to believe that simple psychiatric methods will deliver the victims from such psychological states. And so, working with a film crew; Iris Reisen (Iris Bahr) and Dave Maskowitz (Adam Grimes) as his writer/producer and cameraman respectively, they traveled to a Louis Sweetzer’s (Louis Herthum) farmhouse to conduct a mock-exorcism on Louis’ daughter Nell (Ashley Bell). What Cotton discovers in that old farmhouse eventually brought him back to basic lessons on faith and put him in the middle of the everlasting battle between what is good and what is evil.
Much can be said on the performances. In these types of genres, method acting is tested at its best. Fabian as Rev. Cotton and Sweetzer as Louis have profoundly created characters far beyond what one expects. Their creative construction of a con-artist and a believer can make one believe that they are seeing actual people and not actors. The clearly-possessed Nell who has been battling with what was inside her mind/body was effectively justified by Bell. Her silent innuendos, smiles and eventual violent screams and mystical stares has given a new look at demon-possessed characters in films.
I have come to a point where I almost gave up watching mockumentaries since THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) because of the dragging character developments and expositions. EXORCISM may have followed a relatively tiring genre, but boring it is not. The fast-paced presentations in EXORCISM is what I think made the film great. The editing is ready to uproot you from your seat, like any documentary you see on TV.
On the philosophical side, one can see the variations of the human heart and its continuous battle for the importance of life. In this generation of unfaith and disbelief, EXORCISM has given us new perspectives on how one stops the pendulum that swings between the good and the bad. The story has centered primarily on Cotton, a former believer and a church leader. We see him eventually pulling away from his original faith and exploring other aspects of the human mind that purely de-construct his former thoughts. As the story pulls off, we see his inner battles. As the mystery unfolds, we review (with him) his former collection of ideas and juxtapose them to whatever he encounters as the story progresses.
During the actual exorcism scenes, the creators move away from film techniques that would label the story as supernatural or fantastical. We don’t see flying girls or green pukes all over – the usual design we see in films like these. Instead, we witness a nearly insane little girl and a more confused Presbyterian leader giving out signals that they want to finally let go of their own battles, accept defeat, but decide which is the better way to go.
Beyond what the audiences expect from horror flicks nowadays, THE LAST EXORCISM presents a thesis on faith. Not so much horror films have presented God in a way Stramm did in this movie. He has effectively outlined his framework on faith in a Supreme Being and presented the never-ending internal battle of man and the consequences of his/her decisions.