Realism is the key here, realism and playing on simple, subtle fear. Realism comes in the form of both the superb documentary style, and also from the fact there are NO special effects. The girl hired to play the part of Nell CAN do these things, she can crack her own neck, twist her body into a deformed, grotesque creature, and breaks her own fingers! To witness this on screen, especially the first time she snaps her neck, is enough in itself to send shivers down the spine. The Last Exorcism is a superb film, a real and very effective film that will most definitely divide audiences, much like the Blair Witch Project did. Some will find his film a work of genius, others (like the irritating fuckin teenagers sat at the back of the screen) will easily become board and not buy into it at all. More the fool them i say!
So, lets get down to it. If you have seen the trailer, i assume you think you know what to expect? Wrong, dead wrong. I thought i knew what to expect as the trailer seemed fast paced and relentless scares, it is not! It is an extremely slow building film, much like the recent House of the Devil. The film gives you time to get on with the characters, get to know them and, impressively, FEEL something for them.
Reverend Cotton is an exorcist, he comes from a family of exorcists. His Dad has performed 150 in his lifetime, and Cotton has had enough of the charade. He feels exorcising a Demon only causes further harm to the subject, he feels it a scam, its fake, and people only believe it works thanks to films like the Exorcist. He believes there are far too many religions performing them, its out of control and it needs to stop. And so, he has decided to make a documentary in order to show the world how fake it all is. You will like Cotton immediately, i did. He is the perfect character, full of pain and passion, you want to listen to him, and you (almost) want to believe he is right. I instantly sided with him, and wanted to go along for the ride to see what he can prove. But, being a horror fan, i also wanted to see a possessed girl After a small amount of background story, Cotton picks a letter at random and says this will be his last exorcism, and he will go wherever he needs to to prove his point.
And so he heads to the Sweetzer farm. Nell is apparently possessed, and her Dad (Louis) is at the end of his tether. Her brother is a more moody person, telling Cotton to leave and go back where he came from. We arrive at the Sweetzer farm to find Nell to be a normal 16 year old, although a little quiet and shy. Her Mum died two years ago, and the family still seem to be grieving. Cotton sets up an exorcism, and fakes the whole thing (much to Nell’s brothers joy) by using sound effects, wiring to pull on the bed etc, and looks very pleased with himself. As the Dad hands over a big wad of cash, just for a second you hate Cotton. He, pretty much, has ripped off this family. But that is the point he is getting at, people do this the world over, benefit from it and nothing really ever comes of it. Its an interesting point, and fair play to director Daniel Stamm for having the balls to make an intelligent and thought provoking horror about peoples beliefs, and at times, their stupidity.
Cotton feels he’s done his bit and leaves, only to be visited by a bizarre Nell at his hotel. Now the story gets really interesting as Cotton believes Nell needs a doctor. Family secrets come out, and all the while Nell’s behaviour gets worse. She has been blamed for mutilating the cows, and often she turns up covered in blood with no memory of how it happened, so clearly there is something wrong, but what is it? To go much more into the story now would seriously spoil things, but let me say that this film goes somewhere truly shocking. The ending hits hard and i was left literally gasping for air and in total shock. I wouldn’t go and say this is the scariest film of the year, however, some scenes are built up to almost unbearably tense levels. The documentary look really helps make the film authentic, and you can literally smell the country air in how well it has been realised. There is some truly horrific sound effects, and some deeply disturbing music thrown in now and then.
It does move at a slow pace, but as i said, it really gives you the chance to get involved. As with most hand-held/documentary type films, the acting is spot on and it never feels like a movie, or that people are acting, which makes the horrors that come out all the more shocking and believable. There are many many questions raised, and the end doesn’t quite answer them, which is good, it will make this film a talking point for those who did enjoy it. We can discuss once we have all seen it. Stamm has really proved here he is one to watch. Not satisfied with the usual horror cliché’s and normal timed scares, he has brought something new to the table, something fresh and interesting. Its not often a horror comes out that is truly unique, bit Stamm has achieved this, by somehow using well known stories and formulas, he has twisted them into something more, something better. The Last Exorcism is a horror more to respect than fear, it can hold its head up high as a really, damn good study in fear and peoples beliefs. And thats what it is, mainly, a study, a terrifying documentary into the unknown, something we all feel we know about, but will feel oddly stupid when watching this. It turns it all upside down in a barrage of moments designed to really test your understanding and beliefs. This is a clever clever film, that does scare when it needs to, but is one that will linger in your thoughts long after it has finished. Excuse the pun, but it will haunt you ( ) and get the old brain working. Good luck!!!