One of the most used film chestnuts is the “one last job” cliché. As a plot device we’ve seen it in everything from “The Sting” to “The Wild Bunch” to “Sexy Beast” to “Inception.” It usually involves a character’s search for redemption; a release that can only come after doing their usual job/gig/illegal activity one more time. Usually things don’t work out as planned but rarely have the consequences been as biblical as the climax of the aptly titled new thriller “The Last Exorcism.”
Staged like a documentary “The Last Exorcism” follows the exploits of Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), a fundamentalist preacher and exorcist. I say exploits because Marcus makes a habit of exploiting the beliefs of his followers for money. He is, more or less, a God fearing man, but despite his fire and brimstone sermons, he doesn’t buy into the existence of demons. He’s like a slick salesman who doesn’t really believe in his product. He does however think the process of exorcism helps people who have faith He’s happy to take their money and business is good. “The Vatican gets the press,” he says, “because they have ‘the movie’” but he is called on to do dozens of exorcisms a year. After reading about a botched exorcism in which a young boy is killed, however, he decides to hang up his cross. He’ll do the fabled one last job for the benefit of the documentary cameras but that’s it. Of course, the demonic doings on the farm of Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum) in rural Louisiana test his faith—or lack thereof—more than he anticipated.
“The Last Exorcism” is part “Blair Witch Project” and part “Wicker Man” with a taste of “Rosemary’s Baby” thrown in for good measure. Despite some gaping credulity gaps—like a documentary crew who stays well past the point when any sane person would have run for the hills—it’s filled with enjoyably cheap and nasty b-movie thrills. By and large there are no special effects, just old school frights like eerie shadowy figures walking down hallways. The scares come from the situation, the characters and the layer of tension that director Daniel Stamm allows to build slowly as he nears the fiery climax.
As I said earlier, along the way credulity is stretched paper thin, and hardcore horror fans will likely see some of the twists coming, but Stamm compensates for that in the casting. One of the worst aspects of these “found footage” faux documentaries is the acting. Too often amateurish performances stand out like sore thumbs in these films, but with very few exceptions “The Last Exorcism” pulls it off acting wise. Particularly strong are Patrick Fabian as the sardonic know-it-all preacher and Ashley Bell as the 16-year-old demon child. Fabian brings some unexpected charm and humor to the role and Bell impresses as she careens from innocent to evil in the blink of an eye.
“The Last Exorcism” isn’t the most startling or original horror film to come along recently, but it is suitably creepy and should make you gobble your popcorn just a bit faster during the scary scenes.