I think I speak for a lot of punters when I say that the best way to approach a movie is to know as little about it as possible. When freed from preconceptions and expectations you can just enjoy a movie for what it is. So, I was pretty pleased with myself that I'd managed to avoid all the publicity and opinion of The Last Exorcism before sitting down to watch it. I literally had no idea what to expect. But a few frames in it soon became obvious I was watching another "found footage" movie. Ergh. It was really too soon after Paranormal Activity 2 to do this dance again, and for once (in fairness to both me and the film-makers) it would have actually been better to know what I was in for so I could have given The Last Exorcism some more breathing space after Paranormal Activity 2. Oh, well...
Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) has been an evangelical preacher his whole life. We meet him via the lens of two documentary film-makers as he describes to them his life as a preacher specialising in exorcisms. He reveals, bluntly, that exorcisms are fake (shocking, I know), but explains that for years he thought he was doing a good thing because of the placebo effect it had on the deluded people he performed them on.
Frankly, if people are stupid enough to believe in demonic possession, I say let the devil eat their soul... nom, nom, nom.
But, the ill health of Cotton's own young son has left him questioning his faith, and the emerging reports of exorcisms going horribly wrong, at the hands of other preachers, has inspired him to expose exorcisms for the fakery they are.
'Please, God, no... not another "found footage" movie!'
This basic set-up takes quite a while, and leaves you wondering what the movie is really about for too long. That said, once Cotton finally explains that he's going to conduct his last exorcism and wants a documentary film crew to film it and expose to the world what fakery exorcisms really are, you can predict the trajectory of the rest of the movie in an instant.
As a horror movie, it's just not that effective. The scares are too little too late, and the conclusion is as silly as it is predictable.
But, the strange thing is that The Last Exorcism actually (kind of) works as religious satire. At least it did for me. Patrick Fabian's Cotton is a funny, engaging character. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy his story. I'm just a little surprised the film-maker's didn't realise, when they were editing their movie, that perhaps what they had on their hands was a movie that would work better as pure satire rather than the half-baked horror movie they ultimately cut together. I reckon, with major re-editing and minimal reshooting, The Last Exorcism, could have been a movie more akin to Four Lions than The Blair Witch Project, and would have been better for it.
If you're looking for "found footage" thrills to rival The Blair Witch Project, Rec, or Paranormal Activity then you're in for a big disappointment with The Last Exorcism. It's just too predictable and delivers it's weak scares too late. But if you have a healthy disrespect for religious hokum, you might get something out this movie that, for a good percentage of its run time, does a pretty good job of taking the piss out of such hokum.