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By James Whittington, Thursday 23rd December 2010
There have been plenty of possession movies over the last few decades, the most notable being The Exorcist which shocked audiences around the world in the early 1970s. Though time may have withered its impact, the subject matter is still incredibly strong. Not many films of this sub-genre have come close in capturing the raw horror that The Exorcist emitted. That is until now as director Daniel Stamm has delivered what could be the most entertaining but terrifying possession movie yet, The Last Exorcism.
After a career spent helping the devout through prayer and trickery, Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) invites a film crew to document his final fraudulent days as an exorcist. Soon his faith is truly tested when a desperate plea from the father of a possessed girl (Ashley Bell) brings him face to face with evil itself.
By setting the film very much in the real world and shot on hand-held cameras giving it a documentary/cine verite appearance, The Last Exorcism is a triumph of storytelling over effects. Yes, there are some great subtle pieces of SFX on show but this is a very “real” looking movie. You can almost smell the farm where the film is set, you can almost taste the fear the characters are experiencing and the movie will most certainly stay with you long after the credits have rolled.
The leads, Patrick Fabian and Ashley Bell give outstanding performances. Fabian (initially) plays Marcus as an amalgam of TV preacher, exorcist and sinister car sales man, occasionally looking directly into camera with a smug sense of self satisfaction and pride. Sinful of course which leads much to his downfall. Whilst Bell (who actually can perform the infamous backbend herself) displays a raft of strong emotions styles, drifting from young innocent to sweating “demon” in the blink of an eye, leaving the viewer unsure if her character is actually possessed or just crazy. The rest of the small cast play it straight, and it really does feel like you’re watching a documentary.
The natural setting and Stamm’s confident direction, allows the unease and psychological drama to build gradually but as soon as the film starts you sense something is wrong but you just can’t put your finger on what.
Scriptwriters Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland touch upon many subjects not just that of religion and science, but of family construction, trust and hope. The subtle use of music and effects heighten the tension without suffocating it.
The Last Exorcism is a solid piece and a refreshing look at the theme of demonic possession. Highly recommended.
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