The Last Exorcist is not related to the horror franchise The Last Exorcism. Robin Bain’s sophomore feature-length film as both writer and director follows sisters Jo (Rachel Brooke Smith) and Maddie (Terri Ivens) as they deal with the grief of losing Father Peter (Dennis Lavelle). The priest took them in and raised the two after their mother, both mentally ill and possessed by a demon, killed herself and their father. The loss of Father Peter sends Maddie into a spiral of hard-drinking and vices. It pushes Jo to reaffirm her faith and put it all on the line for her beliefs.
As this new trauma resurfaces memories of their past anguish, Jo recalls seeing a shadowy entity enter her sister’s body the night their parents died. This convinces her that Maddie’s lashing out is due to possession, not grief. Jo reaches out to former priest/exorcist, Marco (Danny Trejo), for help, as he worked with Father Peter. Can they save Maddie before demonic forces forever damn her soul?
The exorcism subgenre has a storied history, though its coffers are filled with just as many duds as great works, if not more. In order to stand out in such a crowded field, a movie needs something to push it over the edge. Perhaps it could be a killer sense of humor and neo-noir atmosphere like Ava’s Possessions. Maybe it’d be the unbelievably gorgeous palette of Lost Souls or the gritty feel of Accidental Exorcist. Of course, opinions may vary, but it is almost impossible to achieve the grave, scary heights of The Exorcist, but no harm in attempting to be as creepy as possible.
“ Jo reaches out to former priest/exorcist Marco for help…”
So, what does Bain’s horror film bring to the table? Sadly, not much. Now, please don’t misinterpret that statement. The Last Exorcist is not a bad movie per se, but it is mostly unremarkable. For starters, the opening credits are over Father Peter giving a speech (a sermon?) on how possessions and exorcisms are very real. It is just the actor sitting in front of a camera, with bluish-grey pictures behind him. They are somewhat blurry, so any effect they are meant to have is significantly diminished. There’s no sense of pacing or atmosphere here, nor are characters being established either. It is a terrible start to the movie.
The real story begins after that (and a little flashback/dream of Jo as a young girl), with Jo waking up in bed knowing something terrible has happened to Father Peter. She goes to wake Maddie, and the audience does not know their relationship at this point, nor their affinity to the deceased priest. Instead of boring the audience for five minutes of talks about exorcisms that every viewer has heard before, why not use that opening to show the girls growing up as half-sisters, ending with the death of their parents and Father Peter taking them in?
Bam! The film now starts on a much more assured note that establishes characters, relationships, and a brief overview of the demon’s violent nature and its taking over of Maddie. But alas, this is not what happens, which means The Last Exorcist spends too much time going over it all. Aside from Maddie acting out occasionally, very little of note or interest happens in the first 50 minutes of this movie.
"…Danny Trejo...is always a welcomed presence..."