The shaky-cam-staged documentary is very much in vogue at the moment. It’s the cool new kid on the block that everyone wants to hang around with at break time, and the worrying thing is that it’s teamed up with the resident bully on the playground, the horror genre. The two seem like perfect friends being able to help one another in a dastardly game set out to put you in the shoes of some dim-witted documentary filmmaker and thrust you right into the action, letting you see what they see up close and personal. It’s worked well for the likes of Spanish horror [Rec], JJ Abrams’ Cloverfield and even the breakout hit of last year (that still leaves many with sleepless nights), Paranormal activity. Why is it then that the two seem out of sync in the latest offering to the big screen, The Last Exorcism?
The story centres around a young priest who is out to prove that exorcisms are in fact just all bravado and invites a documentary filmmaking crew along to expose the dark art for what it really is; all showmanship. However, all goes wrong when the case turns out to be an authentic possession meaning his tricks and slights-of-hand do nothing to cure the young girl. The premise is promising but the film simply plods along, giving the cast little to do but wait around for the next horrific thing to happen. Little time is spent on any sort of character development and we are simply to accept that what we see is what we get out of them.
The climax is very dissatisfying with the worst aspects of the genre coming through to leave a ‘clever’, open- ended final few minutes that has the work of Eli ‘Hostel’ Roth stamped all over it. When the lights came up the groans and dismay of the audience followed, with no one in the late showing seemingly impressed with much about the feature.
However, The Last Exorcism is not all gloom. There are some convincing performances, especially by Ashley Bell as the young possessed girl, Nell Sweetzer. She is both a gifted contortionist and able to move from
harmless Southern hick to demonic harlot with ease. The scene where she steals the camera from the team is one of the film’s more chilling sequences. Patrick Fabian is also good as the priest, Cotton Marcus. He is a likable figure who you are able to identify with from the beginning. However, this reviewer would have liked to see more of him regaining his faith in the church, as opposed to trying to find scientific explanations for the evil goings-on.
All in all this a very missable film, with plenty of better shaky-cam horrors out there. Let’s hope that, like the title, this really is The Last Exorcism.