Rating: PG-13 (disturbing violent content and terror, some sexual references and thematic material)
Length: 87 minutes
Release Date: Aug. 27, 2010
Directed by: Daniel Stamm
Stars: 3.5 out of 5
Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) is a Louisiana preacher with a devoted wife and a sick son. His son has been chronically ill for his entire life, a situation that has made Cotton question his faith. He continues to preach to his deeply religious congregation because it’s a fairly good living, but his heart isn’t in it anymore. He now sees preaching as more show business than faith, so he invites a documentary film crew to interview him about preaching so that he can voice his disillusionment to the world. To prove his point, he tells the film crew that his congregation will be thrilled by any sermon he gives, even if it’s about bread. He then proceeds to base an entire sermon on a recipe for banana bread, to much joy and clapping from the congregation.
His next target is exorcisms, which he and his father-Cotton comes from a long line of preachers-have performed many times. He gets a request from a desperate farmer named Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum), who thinks that his daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) is possessed by a demon. She seems sweet and innocent all day, but once she falls asleep, all bets are off. Some of the farmer’s cattle have been slaughtered, things have begun flying across rooms, and the normally sedate Nell has been cursing like a sailor. Cotton invites the documentary crew to shadow him while he performs the exorcism to show that the entire ceremony is a sham.
When Cotton and the crew reach the Sweetzer farm, however, things take a terrible turn. Cotton goes through the usual motions with the exorcism, but Nell only seems to be getting worse. The preacher begins to investigate the family and all acquaintances to try and show that nothing is really wrong with Nell, but he uncovers some things that he didn’t expect to find. Nell might not be possessed by a demon, but something is definitely wrong with her. As Cotton continues his investigation, a surprise twist in the last twenty minutes of the film will give him and the audience some answers that are downright chilling.
Fabian is mainly known for his television acting, having been in a myriad of series before “The Last Exorcism.” He occasionally snagged a recurring role, such as his nine-episode stint on HBO’s “Big Love,” but most of his appearances have been one-off guest roles, which has allowed him to carve out a busy career as a nomadic actor. Though this is probably a fun way to make a living, it has kept audiences from really getting to know the actor or what he is capable of. In this film, Fabian finally gets a big showcase for his considerable talent, which is a big part of why the film works. He plays the jaded Cotton well, giving the character layers that perhaps weren’t even part of the script. For example, the pastor balks when someone else calls him a fraud, even though he is on camera in an effort to expose an exorcism he is conducting as a fraud. This implies a deep sense of pride in the character and gives the audience a little insight into Cotton’s way of thinking. Layers like this give the film a smart quality that isn’t always found in horror films.
Many horror films are made to shock the audience and attempt to do so by using copious amounts of blood and increasingly creative ways of killing off disposable characters. Though this type of filmmaking appeals to a large swath of people, it can be harder to find a more cerebral horror film experience. “The Last Exorcism” is one of those rare horror movies that makes viewers think and challenges them to figure out what is going on before turning everything on its head with its surprise ending.
The ending will come as a shock to some, while others may see it coming. The good news is that even those who guessed what the big twist was will still be highly entertained by the journey the film takes to get there. The development of the characters and the increasingly creepy occurrences around the farm deliver enough chills to satisfy just about any horror film fan, even hardcore ones who might prefer more gore and guts than “The Last Exorcism” delivers. It’s a creepy, scary good time with enough jolts and twists to make it worth watching at least once.