Monday, November 28, 2011

Movie Monday: The Last Exorcism

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This week's movie is the supernatural horror film The Last Exorcism!

I'm always up for a good horror movie--and see so few--that when I read some interesting things about this film, another in the "found footage" genre, I decided to give The Last Exorcism a shot:
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The film opens sans any sort of credit sequence; rather we're immediately introduced to the faux-documentary's subject, Pastor Cotton Marcus:
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Cotton is a family man, a religious man, but also someone who sees himself above most of the people he preaches to. We see clips of his sermons, which are combinations of religious ceremony, magic at, and stand-up routine. At one point he mouths a bunch of nonsense, and watches his parishioners eat it up.

He has performed a number of exorcisms, even specializes in it, because he has come to believe its science that can explain these incidents, and is on a secret crusade to debunk all the supernatural trappings behind these mysterious events.

He shows off the stack of letters he gets every day, from desperate people looking to him for help. He opens one from a farmer named Louis Sweetzer:
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Cotton mocks the letter while reading it aloud, and decides to head to the small, backwoods town of Ivanwood to help Sweetzer's daughter Nell, who he claims is possessed.

The first sign of something amiss is when they stop a young man and ask for directions to the Sweetzer farm. The teen is polite, but then turns very serious when he instructs them, in no uncertain terms, to go back to where they came from. When they blow him off and drive on, he quietly walks away and then begins throwing rocks at their car:
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Cotton and the camera crew (named Iris and Daniel) drive on, but the latter two are clearly unnerved at this. They are not reassured when they arrive at the Sweetzer farm, only to learn that the young boy is Nell's brother Caleb.

They meet with Nell (Ashley Bell) who, like her brother, is home-schooled. She seems simple and sweet, but also very fragile. She compliments Iris' boots, and almost squeals with delight when Iris gives them to her as a gift.
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Using hidden sound equipment and props hidden beforehand, Cotton performs the "exorcism", which stuns Nell's father, believing every second of it. Cotton tells him that Nell is cured, and plans to leave town.

That night, Nell steals the camera, and goes on a rampage--she murders a cat (thankfully, the details of which are mostly obscured), and plans to kill Cotton before the crew wakes up and stop her. Marcus is convinced that Nell has a serious medical problem, and takes her to a nearby hospital, where she is found to be physically fine.

They meet with the family's former pastor, who says that the Sweetzer family left the church a while ago and have not been seen for months, much to their displeasure. Nell slashes her brother in the face, and while his father takes him to the hospital, Cotton and the crew do some investigating. They find some disturbing drawings that seem to represent Cotton and his crew:
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The crew is pictured as being violently murdered, which further unnerves Iris and Daniel. They don't demand to pack up and leave, exactly, but whatever fears they have are dismissed by Cotton.

The hospital calls and states that Nell is pregnant. Cotton believes its the work of the father, in an act of incest. The father of course denies this, and insists that Nell is a virgin, and this is the work of the devil. He and Cotton argue when the father asks for another exorcism. It grows almost violent, with the father chasing the crew off his land with a shotgun. He only allows them to come back when they agree to perform another exorcism.

This takes place in the barn, where Nell contorts herself into unnatural positions (done without CGI, a nice touch). Nell starts speaking in another voice, which sounds unearthly, but Cotton catches something: Nell, trying to offend, refers to a "blowing job", which tips Cotton off into thinking this is all coming from Nell's diseased mind: after all, the Devil itself would know what the correct term was, but a home-schooled young girl might not:
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Later, Nell tells them of Logan, a local boy who supposedly impregnated her. On their way out of town, Cotton and the crew visit Logan, who vehemently denies he had sex with Nell, having only seen her once, at a get together at their pastor's home--he also quietly admits he is gay, a claim they believe.

While leaving town, they discuss the case, and Cotton decides to turn around and head back to the Sweetzer farm. He realizes that the pastor's claim that he had not seen Nell in a long time is a lie, and that the story just doesn't add up.

Okay--at this point the film reveals its Big Ending, so if you don't want to learn any more about The Last Exorcism, don't read any further! You can safely skip down to the next set of asterisks.

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When they get to the house, its dark and deserted.
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A few yards away, Cotton and the crew spy what can only be some sort of cult ritual: Nell is on a table, and the pastor is what looks like delivering her baby. He pulls out something that looks like a baby, sort of, which he hurls into a pyre, which only seems to make the fire grow larger, and some sort of plume of smoke rises from it, along with demonic sounds. The cameraman also catches Louis Sweetzer, tied up and blindfolded, against a tree.

Iris and Daniel want to run away, but Cotton is transfixed--as if, in this moment, his faith in God has been restored. He grabs his crucifix, holding it aloft, and heads towards the fire--looking exactly like the drawing Nell did earlier.

Iris and Daniel take off, and Daniel--still filming--manages to capture a cult member grabbing Iris and hacking her to death with an axe. Daniel runs and runs, pausing to catch his breath. He finds himself face to face with Caleb, who swings some sort of blade, clearly decapitating Daniel. The camera falls to the ground, and stops moving. The End.
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I enjoyed The Last Exorcism quite a bit--it spends a good amount of time establishing Cotton. And while I can't say I was all that wrapped up with the character, I am a sucker for any horror movie set in some remote backwoods--I find that idea inherently terrifying, so any movie with that setting already has me halfway.

Many people have criticized the ending, saying it violates the entire movie leading up to it, and I guess it does--the whole theme of the film is letting the audience decide whether Nell is actually possessed or if it is all in her head. The ending scene leaves no doubt.

The performances all around quite real and natural. The movie itself violates the "found footage" concept by dropping in background music occasionally and, if we were going to take this the whole way, how are we even seeing this footage, in this somewhat edited form? Wouldn't the film have been confiscated, or is that the subject of the inevitable sequel?

Overall, I thought The Last Exorcism was pretty scary--it generally refrains from cheap jump scares, preferring to put you in the shoes of the crew, who are in way over their heads (no pun intended). And, unlike Cotton Marcus, they know it.


1 comment:

Robert M. Lindsey said...

If you find the wood scary, you're just the guy they made Tucker and Dale vs. Evil for.