The Last Exorcism

The Last Exorcism UK Poster
When he arrives on the rural Louisiana farm of Louis Sweetzer, the Reverend Cotton Marcus expects to perform just another routine “exorcism” on a disturbed religious fanatic. An earnest fundamentalist, Sweetzer has contacted the charismatic preacher as a last resort. Certain his teenage daughter Nell is possessed by a demon who must be exorcised before their terrifying ordeal ends in unimaginable tragedy.

Reverend Marcus is a slick operator; a popular, impassioned preacher and successful exorcist on one hand, and a cynical operator on the other. With a conscience pricked by fatherhood, he has brought in a crew to lift the lid on the practise of exorcism. When he receives Sweetzer’s impassioned plea, it’s the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the showmanship and methods in action as he carries out his last exorcism.

After being introduced to the Reverend both in action at his local church and at home, establishing his character and the premise, they set off into rural Louisiana. Leaving white picket fences behind, they head into the abandoned grandeur of ‘gator country, encountering a variety of locals en route, and Marcus uses his charm to take the mickey out them, drawing out legends of cults and local madmen as he winks at the camera. It’s a clever device to introduce an element of something’s-not-quite-right, so that by the time they arrive at Sweetzer’s farm, you’re ready for something to hit the fan.

It’s an atmosphere that’s built on as Marcus gets to work setting the stage for his final performance. Ashley Bell gives the shy, homeschooled Nell an air of vulnerable innocence completely at odds with the her father’s anxious assertions of demonic influence.
Ashley Bell as Nell Sweetzer

The slow burn of tension gathers pace as Marcus gets into his routine, and Nell begins revealing glimpses of the behaviour that has seen her father call in an exorcist. I thought this was well executed; it’s spooky and suffused with the feeling that it’s all about to go horribly wrong. There are some interesting twists and truly chilling moments on the way (and again Ashley Bell shines as the main event begins, contorting herself in ways that’ll made your eyes water, all the more impressive for being CGI free).

All of which makes the ending a bit frustrating. I like a redneck with an axe as much as the next guy, but it felt forced and completely at odds with the build up to that point, squandering the carefully hoarded tension in a rush to bring matters to a bloody conclusion. It’s the real only letdown in an otherwise tense and creepy movie.

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