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THE LAST EXORCISM (2010) (***)

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Director Daniel Stamm puts a found footage twist on the exorcism tale. A documentary crew plans to cover a fake exorcism in order to reveal how they are done. They get into a family where secrets hold the key to what they are calling possession. What is real and what is illusion is hard to tell.

Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian, TV's GENERAL HOSPITAL) comes from a long line of exorcists, but he has stopped performing them out of guilt. When asked by the filmmakers if he is a fraud, he says, "That's your word." His new mission is to expose the practice for what it is so that no child will die ever again at the hands of an exorcist. Cotton is like a flashy faith-healing TV evangelist. He loves an audience.

At first he thinks he is performing the exorcism on farmer Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON), who believes demonic forces are killing his livestock. To his dismay when he arrives at the Sweetzer house he learns that Louis believes that his teen daughter Nell (Ashley Bell, TV's UNITED STATES OF TERA) is the one killing the animals. The family has lived isolated from the outside world since the death of their mother. Nell's protective brother Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS) throws rocks at Cotton's car when they first arrive. So Southern hospitality might be an illusion too.

At its core the film is a critique of twisted religion. Cotton is a huckster who uses it to make money under the guise that he is giving someone the ritual they need to get past whatever mental issue they are suffering from. Louis uses religion as a weapon to control his children and an excuse to lock them away from a world he fears. Cotton is trying to make amends and wants to help Nell, but he's digging for the Earthly cause.

The found footage conceit works quite well with this material. It gives it authenticity, especially when we start to wonder whether it's all some kind of ruse or if something supernatural is really occurring. But the key question is: who is conducting the ruse? You can see the influences of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT all over this film.

Stamm takes his time, using his actors to create real personalities. Uncertainty drives the tension. Each scare builds on the next and with each unexpected reveal the characters take on depth and the situation gets more dire. Nothing is forced... at least to a point. The film loses its way in the last five minutes with a lazy ending that is almost laughable in its absurdity. It's a shame, because it could have ended earlier and provided a satisfying closure. But it in an attempt to have one last big shock the film not only jumps the shark, but turns around, comes back and beats it with a stick until it's dead.

Within the craziness of the ending, there is one moment that redeemed it for me, because it was a nice character moment with Cotton. While the ending is a big let down, the journey to it is worth taking. The film still works, because the ending fits, its just silly. Things are an illusion but we just don't know whom has the magic wand.

Rick DeMott's picture

Rick DeMott
Animation World Network
Creator of Rick's Flicks Picks