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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Last Exorcism

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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The Last Exorcism

Rest assured; the title refers to one of the character’s last exorcisms, not yours. That ancient rite has a safe haven within Christian (specifically Catholic) doctrine and will be summoned up countless times as the subject of future films. This is just one of them.

Baton Rouge preacher Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) is so charismatic, with a flock so willing to follow him that he can incorporate a banana bread recipe into his sermon without anyone noticing. This amuses him, as many aspects about his ministry do. He’ll call upon the name of Jesus but worship at the altar of Washington, Lincoln, Hamilton and Jackson, the little green men in the collection plate each Sunday. Marcus is a comfortable suburbanite when he’s not exhorting his flock into being fleeced in the name of the Lord.

With a two-person film crew in tow, which includes sound engineer Iris (Iris Bahr) he randomly selects a letter from a stack he regularly receives requesting spiritual help and makes his way to Ivanwood, Louisiana in an effort to debunk exorcism as the fraud he finds his entire preaching career to have been. The animal mutilations plaguing the Sweetzer farm seem like a good place to start.
The trio encounters a family consisting of pious but booze-embattled Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum), his sullen, suspicious son Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones), and daughter Nell (Ashley Bell), who is the one allegedly possessed. She appears to be sweet and virginal and trusting, deceptively so, like the proverbial calm before the storm.

Of course, strange events occur that shake the preacher’s faith, little as that is. Nell begins to spew forth baleful glances and twist into erratic pretzel-like contortions while screeching wildly. She seems to walk in a trance-like state while her previous persona dissolves into that of a menacing predator. Preacher and crew are alarmed and push for psychiatric help, which angers Louis into becoming another type of danger: a gun-toting religious zealot.

A tug of war ensues with Nell’s soul at stake. What – you were expecting a barn dance?

Several scenes are effective in summoning chills and tension. You get invested in the journey and interested in where it might take you. Theories start to form in your head about what’s really going on. Witnessing the preacher and film crew’s logic dissolve into fear is convincing and allows the viewer to join them in the mystery. Handheld camera shots are shaky and disconcerting at times, adding to the creepiness and urgency.

And then, like a fall out of bed at the most active part of a dream, the abrupt ending yanks you from your former reverie and you are reminded of the lyrics of the Peggy Lee classic, “Is That All There Is”? You feel swindled, all of that lovely creepiness and fear-invoking ambience cut short in one fell swoop.

Patrick Fabian gives Marcus a smug, used-car salesman veneer. Ashley Bell infuses Nell with an unnerving calm bristling with violence and sexuality right under the surface. Louis Herthum’s devout, broken character seesaws between Christian devotion and strong-arm tactics. Iris Bahr is frequently the voice of reason unheeded. Caleb as the older brother brings a southern venom into the fray,

Director Daniel Stamm (A Necessary Death) has patterned his tale a la Blair Witch, a pseudo documentary feigning realism to up the scare factor into “it could happen to you” territory. He’s effective for most of the journey, stumbling on the last leg and imploding the terror soufflé he’s puffed up so impressively by stabbing it too soon after it inflates. The effect is startlingly disappointing.

I wonder what possessed him to do that.

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