The Last Exorcism doesn't close the deal
 

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posted Friday, September 3, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 36

The Last Exorcism doesn't close the deal
by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

The Last Exorcism Now Playing
Box office numbers turned into a horse race last week, with early reports claiming The Last Exorcism actually topped the deftly cast heist flick Takers. As the final numbers were tallied, Takers did edge out a win, but just barely.

Why is this a surprise? Takers is a slick, genre-specific movie with a multi-ethnic cast built to pull the dream demographic of 18- to 24-year-old males. You have hot black guys, hot white guys, and a handsome Latino for good measure. On top of all that, there's an old guy (I still remember swooning over Matt Dillon in his tighty-whities as he popped Kristy McNichol's cherry in Little Darlings circa 1980) to bring in, well, other old guys.

The Last Exorcism, on the other hand, is a low-budget horror film with a genre-busting gimmick and a nameless cast. Seems like Takers should have been a slam dunk. That didn't happen.

The Last Exorcism is almost a good movie. The setup isn't revolutionary (a girl may or may not be possessed by a demon, and she may or may not have a couple of other secrets, too), but it keeps you guessing the entire time. Unfortunately, the early going feels a bit stretched and the last 15 minutes feels a bit rushed. This is a pacing problem and should have been fixed in the editing room. The bottom line is there isn't enough story to support an hour-and-40-minute film.

The acting is decent, with Ashley Bell shifting from wide-eyed ingénue to bug-eyed possessed girl with enthusiasm. Veteran actor Patrick Fabian works the hell out of his disillusioned preacher character and keeps on working even when his character does stupid things. Tony Bentley pulls off the best acting trick as the local clergyman with a small secret.

That brings us to the biggest problem with The Last Exorcism: The hand-held camera as character gimmick. Technically, this is a cinematic device (think of the game-changer The Blair Witch Project), but in the hands of director Daniel Stamm the device becomes gimmicky.

A cinematic device is employed to tell a story, develop tension, create composition, and/or to somehow further the filmmaker's vision. A gimmick is used to create cheap thrills designed to cash in on other folks' real creativity. In this case, I suspect the filmmakers used it to save money.

Whatever the reason, it doesn't work. Transition and establishing shots become narrative problems. The story arc is limited and watching can be physically dizzying. The camera as character may work in a short film or even a shorter feature film, but it's tough to sustain for an hour and 40 minutes.

Perhaps the biggest problem with The Last Exorcism is the last 15 minutes. This should be the money shot with the possessed girl doing all sorts of disgusting stuff that we know will keep us up at night but that we just love watching anyhow. The movie teases along for almost an hour and a half and then lets you down. It's like having sex for a long time without an orgasm. I say skip The Last Exorcism and see the first Exorcist. That movie will scare you.



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