If you’ve seen one exorcism movie, you’ve seen them all: boiling water, body contortions, creepy sounds, shaking beds. It’s all the same. What matters, however, is how effective you pull it off and The Last Exorcism pales in comparison to other films in the genre.
The movie takes place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where we meet Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian). He’s a pastor who years ago lost his faith and is now preaching his sermons for the paycheck. He justifies it by convincing himself he is doing a valuable service to those who listen. Part of his duty as a pastor is also taking part in exorcisms, despite not believing in demons. Instead, he creates a giant hoax, setting up equipment to shake beds, move pictures on the wall and create demonic sounds. He is about to perform his last exorcism, having recently made the decision to quit the exorcism racket, and invites a camera crew along to see how he performs one. So he heads off to a little farm where he meets Nell (Ashley Bell) and her family and performs his usual tricks, but this case is different and those tricks aren’t going to work.
The Last Exorcism starts off strong. Cotton is non-religious despite preaching religion to the masses. He says at one point that his job is to “get people in their wallets” because “churches don’t run on love.” He manipulates people’s emotions and beliefs for his own monetary gain. The film takes this opportunity to bring up some interesting themes including religious apprehension and corruption.
Unfortunately, none of these themes play out. The Last Exorcism instead becomes another assembly line production that uses worn out tactics done better in a number of other movies. Aside from the obvious similarities to The Exorcist and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, it’s one of those “lost footage” movies like Paranormal Activity, only not as original. It’s also a mockumentary where the actors directly address the camera in interviews, a ploy used more effectively in the tremendously creepy Australian horror film, Lake Mungo. Once Cotton arrives on the farm, we watch him as he sets up the exorcism, planning everything out to make sure nothing goes wrong. Even this, as interesting as it is, echoes the far superior Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, a movie with a similar style that parodies the slasher genre.
Frankly, everything in The Last Exorcism has been done before. Even certain shots and scenes seem ripped out of everything from the Spanish horror film [Rec] to the more recent overrated genre picture House of the Devil. The one thing it has going for it is its humor. Honestly, this is more of a comedy than a horror movie, both in a good and bad way. It’s purposely funny and legitimately so, but the laughs also counterintuitively negate the chills this thing supposedly has to offer.
So The Last Exorcism moves through its overdone horror antics with characters that don’t know how to flip on a light switch and an evil that’s more bothered with showmanship than anything else. There’s a mystery throughout the film that questions whether or not young Nell is actually possessed or is just faking it and it does a good job of keeping it up in the air until the out-of-left-field ending that makes that answer fairly obvious. But by that point, I didn’t care. If this is what we can expect from exorcism movies, let’s hope this really is the last one.
The Last Exorcism receives 2/5