By Don R. Lewis | September 4, 2010

As I sat in the theater taking in Daniel Stamm’s fairly creepy horror film “The Last Exorcism,” I found myself taken by how well the movie was performing. The seemingly low-budget film had realistic characters I cared about, blending well with the age old tale of a girl possessed by evil spirits. Although the film pretty much regurgitates films where an exorcist shows up, finds himself outmatched but hearkens deep inside to harness his spirituality and resolve to defeat the evil dweller, “The Last Exorcism” does this type of movie in a new way; through first person P.O.V. At this point you might be wondering why my final rating on the film is so poor. It’s a strange thing but for all the good qualities in the film, the end result just feels like a massively bland let down that had some good ideas and scenes but ultimately failed to pay them off satisfactorily.

Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) is a self-described false prophet who has not only decided that there’s no such thing as demonic possession, but he’s also not entirely sure he believes in God anymore. But he makes a decent living putting on an exorcism show by employing all sorts of bells and whistles to make people believe they’re being cured from something he believes never ailed them in the first place. Marcus has decided to let a 2-person documentary crew headed by go-getter Iris Reisen (Iris Bahr) follow him on his final excursion as a phony…err…exorcist so off they go to the Sweetzer Farm in rural Louisiana where cattle are being massacred by an unknown force.

There they meet patriarch Louis Sweetzer, (Louis Herthum) his cagey, dickish son Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones) and his sweet and innocent daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) who, according to Louis, is the one mutilating the farm animals. Marcus takes on the case and as you might expect, Nell actually seems to be inhabited by something dark and otherworldly.

“The Last Exorcism” should be a great movie but once it settles on you and there’s some hindsight, you realize the whole thing, well, sucks. For starters, the first person P.O.V. is totally unnecessary. That gimmick worked great in “The Blair Witch Project” because we were told this was all found footage. In “[REC]” and “[REC2]” it adds to the tension and the camera is dealt with in clever ways. Here, it serves no purpose other than to be a gimmick and, frankly, it’s really a stupid use of the idea. Another issue is lead actor Patrick Fabian as Cotton Marcus. While he’s likable enough with his winking and nodding priest work, he lacks the inner conflict necessary to carry a film where he’s supposed to be having some kind of battle with his faith. I wouldn’t say he’s too milquetoast, but he’s damn close to it.

Another glaring issue is the way the film tries to build in crazy twists and turns. Unfortunately each twist feels half-baked and every turn seems like it was done better in other films. The ending to the film is also much maligned and with good reason; it feels like a reel of the film was missing and that’s just lousy. I’m all for ambiguity in film but there’s a different between leaving something up to the viewer and just flat our bailing on your audience. “The Last Exorcism” does the latter.

I will say that lead actress Ashley Bell is incredible as her performance vacillates between sweet and innocent and odiously possessed. Bell also performs some fantastic physical scenes as when she’s possessed it apparently leaves her in need of a major chiropractic adjustment. By far the best part of this film is Ashley Bell as the tortured Nell. Like I said, while watching the film, I was drawn in. But after leaving the theater the tenuously placed pieces of the film fall apart and you’re left feeling ripped off.

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