★★★out of ★★★★★
When a coach, teacher, parent, or peer says “…hey there, that was a really competent job.” Competent? Yeah. Competent. A really condescending term that points to the ultimate in back-handed compliments. It’s not bad, per se, but it ain’t great either. Enter The Last Exorcism. A really competent piece of filmmaking.
The Last Exorcism is established with a pretty interesting, if not competent, premise. An evangelical child prodigy from a long line of southern preachers has a falling out with God. While his faith is shaken he can’t get away from allure of show. The drama. The sermon. The exhortation. The preachin’!
This particular preacher, Cotton Marcus (played by Patrick Fabian), is still very much a part of his local church, but he begins to experience deep ecclesiastic emotions about a growing number of botched exorcisms. While THE church still has a corner on the exorcism market the pentecostal/southern baptist set is trying to weasel in to the biz and they’re causing nothing but grief — and in some cases, death! Pastor Cotton takes his love of the sermon, his interest in magic (the fun kind, not the black kind), and creates kind of a cottage industry of demonic consultancy. With the help of literal smoke and mirrors Pastor Cotton performs faux exorcisms, makes pentecostal/southern baptist demon-believers feel better about themselves, and ultimately points them to big-city psychiatrists to help allay their backwoods quandaries. Pastor Cotton is so successful with this side-biz that a group of big-city documentarians gets wind of his show and decides to tag along to witness a real-live faux exorcism. Pastor Cotton finds a local backwoods family who are convinced that their cattle are being meticulously being chopped up by their demonically inclinded teen daughter, Nell. With the film crew in tow, Pastor Cotton whips up some good ol’ spooky vibes — and BAM — the all-powerful demon named Abalam has been cast out. Or has he…
Pastor Cotton and the film crew retreat to a nearby hotel, give each other high fives on an successful faux exorcism, and that’s were things get weird. Nell arrives at the hotel, proceeds to try to disrobe, lick the documentary film producer, and then barf all over herself. The crew returns Nell to the farm and then things get double weird. There’s a real/perceived pregnancy, a cat slaughter, a cult-like atmosphere, and maybe, just maybe, real demons!
The Last Exorcism contains some solid scares, some nasty finger snapping, and a pretty malevolent twist that turns the backwoods demon-thinking on its head. However, the film also contains a number of strange and lazy botherations, including 1) the film is set in backwoods Louisiana, but no one has an accent; 2) Pastor Cotton is a third generation Louisiana preacher, but he too doesn’t have accent; 3) it’s a found footage film, but music and jump-scare stingers run throughout; and 4) Pastor Cotton and his tag-along film crew never seem too freaked out about the fact that they just might be in the middle of a real-life exorcism. That said, none of the outstanding issues with The Last Exorcism are deal-breakers. Primarily because the premise of the film is really solid and its a great twist on an otherwise tired trope. And maybe most importantly, there’s a great Scooby Doo-esque ending that we won’t spoil here. I mean who doesn’t love Scooby Doo. It might be the most competent cartoon ever filmed.