The Last Exorcism
the last exorcism | daniel stamm | huck botko | andrew gurland | patrick fabian | ashley bell | iris bahr | drama | thriller | france | united states | possessed | possession | faux documentary | found-footage | found footage | exorcism | demon | caleb landry jones
Film: The Last Exorcism
Director: Daniel Stamm
Writer: Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland
Starring: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell and Iris Bahr
This film is one that the first time I saw it was in the theater. I’ll be honest, it was an awkward double date, but I really liked this movie. I did see it a few years later and thought it was still solid. I’m glad that I can now give this a third viewing as part of the Summer Challenge Series for the 2010s on The Podcast Under the Stairs. The synopsis is a troubled evangelical minister agrees to let his last exorcism be filmed by a documentary crew.
For this movie we’re following a pastor Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian). We see his home life with his wife of Shanna (Shanna Forrestall) and his son Justin (Justin Shafer). We learn that Cotton’s father was the pastor at their church before he was, his father bein John (John Wright Jr). It is revealed that has groomed Cotton to be a pastor since he was a child and it helped get people into the church. We see that Fabian is really good at what he does and is a showman. He is quite charismatic which helps. He also has a great home life. We do learn as well that Justin is deaf.
John and Cotton allow this documentary crew that is following him into the father’s office. It is there he opens up his safe and takes a book from it that is very old. We learn that it contains all of the names of the demons that were cast out of heaven with Satan. This is what is used to help them with their exorcisms. John claims to have done around 150 and Cotton has done quite a few himself.
This is where it is revealed that Cotton has lost his faith. He is an exorcist and he was shaken when he saw a failed exorcism that killed a young boy in read about in the news. He also questioned his faith when his son was born. There was questions if he would survive. Cotton found himself thanking the doctors and not God. Cotton has reached out to the crew I referred which, which is made up of Iris Reisen (Iris Bahr) who s the sound person and Daniel Moskowitz (Adam Grimes) is behind the camera. They’re going to follow and document Cotton as he performs his final exorcism.
Cotton checks his mailbox to find a few letters, asking for his help. He opens one from a backwoods town in Louisiana. That is the one he decides to go help. Along with the crew, they leave Baton Rouge to meet with the family. They first stop off at a gas station once they arrive in the area. Cotton describes how a town like this is prime for thoughts of possession, because there is a lot of illiteracy and put a lot into their faith. There are a lot of churches in the area. They actually interview citizens who all know someone who was possessed and even one lady talks about a temple in the area to evil spirits, which like Cotton predicted.
They then go to the farm where the possessed person is. On the way they pass a truck. Cotton wants to make sure they’re going to the right way and the truck stops as well. A young man gets out and comes up to the window. It is Caleb Sweetzer (Caleb Landry Jones), who is the member of the family they’re looking for. He wants them to turn out and go back to where they came. He then throws rocks at them. They then come to a large house and are met by the father of the family, Louis (Louis Herthum). It turns out that Caleb is his son. Louis is not happy about the cameras, but is convinced by Cotton to allow them to film. There is also a daughter and she is the one possessed.
Cotton isn’t happy about this since he doesn’t like to perform exorcisms on children. The daughter is Nell (Ashley Bell). She is a plain girl that comes off as nervous. Fabian hits it off with her and starts his assessment. There are classic signs here that Cotton has heard before. He agrees to do one and the reason is that he thinks possession is nothing more than a mental issue. The problem is though, there could be more truth here than this crew realizes.
That is where I’m going to leave my recap here. I’ll be honest, it went a bit long, but I got you to about the end of the first act. Where I want to start is that I like the idea of this movie. We establish Cotton. As I’ve already said about him, he’s a showman and his charisma works well for him to be a successful preacher. I actually give him a lot of credit, because instead of continuing to do something for money without faith is what I think a lot of these super church preachers do. It also shows that blind faith in a religion isn’t good, which takes me to this family he goes to help.
The Sweetzers are interesting to me. Louis will only believe there is something wrong with his daughter. His wife passed away from breast cancer and he lost his faith in doctors because of it. When Cotton suggests taking Nell to a hospital, he won’t hear it. Louis also has decided that with what happened to his wife, he’s going to circle the wagons at home. He is sheltering his children, which is affecting Nell in a more negative way than her brother.
What is interesting about this movie is that we don’t necessarily know who to trust. Something that I’ve noticed after multiple viewings is that the interviews of the people in town reveal things that play in later into the movie. Even more strategic is that some false information is also mixed in to make us not fully believe them. Taking it even farther, we don’t know if Nell is possessed or not. Cotton is pointing out that he doesn’t believe it, but there is evidence that she could be. This really helps me enjoy this for sure. We also know from what he’s told us that he’s never actually encountered a real demon and this could be the first, which makes it even more terrifying.
Since this is a found footage movie, I want to go next to the cinematography and the effects. I don’t mind this being filmed with handicam. I can understand why Daniel doesn’t want to put the camera down as this is his job. That makes sense to me. There is something that happens with Nell while she is sleepwalking or possessed. This feels a bit cheap to me to be honest. As for the effects though, I’m pretty positive on them for the most part. We see tricks that Cotton does to make families believe he is actually exorcising a demon. The rest that we get look to be practical except for a few things at the end, so on the whole I think this part of the movie is well done.
I would like to take this next to the acting. Fabian is an actor that I normally dislike his characters, but he plays that so well. What is interesting here is that he’s technically a charlatan. For whatever reason though, I like him. I would say that it is probably due to how honest he is with telling us the truth. From the moment we meet him, I want him to succeed. Bell is really good as this mousey younger woman. Props also to her for the effects she did with body contortion as well. Bahr and Grimes are solid as the crew with Cotton. An underrated performance here for me is Herthum. I really believe and feel sorry for him. His plight feels real. I also really like seeing a young Jones in his role. I knew from the first time seeing this that he could command the screen. Then I’d say the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.
Then the last thing I want to go into would be the sound design. We don’t get a soundtrack as all of the sounds are diagetic. The sounds when Cotton is going through the motions of his exorcism are great in scaring Nell and Louis. I like though as things go on we are hearing more realistic sounds making you question what you are seeing. This works well for what they needed.
So then in conclusion here, I still really enjoy this movie. Is it the best found-footage or even exorcism movie out there? No it isn’t, but I think it has interesting aspects. The location of deep in Louisiana sets the stage. The family dynamics of the Sweetzers are good. The acting is solid overall. For the most part the effects are as well and the sound design really helps to build the atmosphere. I like how the story and concept are presented in making us question things all the way to the end. To me this is a good movie. If you like found footage, I would recommend this one. The same would be if you like exorcism movies as well.
My Rating: 8 out of 10