The Last Exorcism
SPOILERS ALL OUT OF CONTROL.
I enjoyed The Last Exorcism. Up until the last three minutes it was packed with good conflict, good ideas, good acting and good suspense.
The last three minutes were… um… NONSENSE. And nonsense stark in contrast to the pretty sophisticated, faux-documentary story that preceded it. There’s no way the current ending was the one originally scripted. NO WAY, MAN. But there was so much other good stuff that I’m still satisfied with the movie.
The power of linen compels you!
– Deeeeep back story for protagonist Cotton Marcus (Southern!; which made him relatable but not sympathetic — like every character on Mad Men. This is pretty much exactly what you want in your horror movie main dude. Thus he can dig himself deeper with morally ambiguous choices, and you’re unsure whether the story developments will save him or kill him.
– Really good acting. Patrick Fabian as Cotton is damn good, and Ashley Bell as demonically-troubled Nell Sweetzer is FREAKIN’ PERFECT. Like SO PERFECT. Like so cute and charming in her pure normal state and so SPOOKY TIMES in her possessed one. I mean, she’s Academy Award good, if the Academy didn’t frown on movies with turble, turble endings.
– Effective suspense/twistiness/curiosity derived from offering alternate explanations for the same behavior. (Is it real, or is it Demonex?)
– Effective exploration of classic exorcism movie themes, like
- Whether someone is really possessed or mentally ill, they’re still damn dangerous
- Well-meaning strangers can’t fix family problems
- Reality is subjective (if a fake exorcism triggers psychosis/possession, it’s hardly fake)
- When you stare into the abyss, the abyss also stares back and whatnot
and kisses on some new themes I’d like to see explored further like
- Evil plays to the camera (Sentient evil recognizes technology as a new vector to spread itself — also touched on by theatrical ending of Paranormal Activity)
- Family contending with demon as allegory for family contending with addiction
- Documentary filmmakers embodying Heisenberg uncertainty principle — they are unable to measure their subject without changing it (symbolized by the Doc Martens the producer gives Nell)
Let she who has not woken up covered in cat blood cast the first stone
– Social services might have been called at some point — perhaps they would refuse to respond, but still. Maybe when they found Nell chained to her bed. Just saying.
– At one point, one of our three heroes suggests they all take a nap at the same time. And they do. Perhaps they could have slept in shifts, with one nodding off inopportunely. Or one could sleep while the two others stole off to argue. But all three honk-shuing at once? Bad documentarians. Bad.
– The climactic exorcism scene is cut weird. It’s cool to show only glimpses of the spooky stuff, and Lord knows this movie’s not afraid of racking focus or obscuring frame. But the choppy editing interfered with the tension at a moment when a steady single shot would have been hella effective.
– The actual ending, for those who dare to read it: with new assurance of wrongdoing, the filmmakers return to the Sweetzer house. There — after offering many possible reasonable explanations (delusion, psychotic break, actual possession) — they find a Satanic cult in the back yard that delivers Nell’s demon baby. Yup. Yuppppers. Bit disappoint-O.
Satanic cult, eh? Then why does Nell’s brother tell the crew “don’t leave her alone with him” — meaning Nell and her dad. Is he just sowing confusion? Why does Nell tell a story so easily disproven? How did the cult get access to her when she’s been homebound for two years?
Thank the Lord for Settlers of Catan
So for your moviegoing enjoyment I provide this
If you must watch this movie, STOP as our three heroes are back in the truck, heading back to the Sweetzer house at sunset with threatening clouds in the sky. They have just learned that the tidy conclusion they came to is not true. They must bring this knowledge back to Daddy Sweetzer and figure out what the hell is going on.
Nightfall. The three arrive at the house. No lights. No signs of life. Camera man guides their path with the camera light.
They climb the porch. Front door open. Let themselves in.
Searching the house. Producer woman calls 911.
A sound upstairs. Cotton insists they check it out. The other two refuse, so he goes alone.
They wait at the bottom of the stairs. And wait. “Cotton?”
Eventually Cotton returns, calling out, “Nothing! There’s no one.”
Then, from the ceiling falls a SEVERED ARM! Screamytimes! There’s the wedding ring (foreshadowed!) — it’s Mr. Sweetzer. Wherever the rest of him is, he’s hella dead.
The three run screaming from the house.
Once the three are safely outside, the house bursts into flames! Why not? It’s an exorcism movie! Wooo! Burny explodey house!
Camera man spots Nell’s body in the woods. They go to her. She is covered in blood, but looks peaceful and fully human. She has her mom’s crucifix (foreshadowed!!1!) around her neck.
Says she: “I got it out. I got it out of me.”
Got what out? What?
“But now I don’t know where it is.”
OH NOES. There’s a terrible, Evil Deadular sound in the woods. And the camera, which heretofore has been very shaky and spazzy, becomes quite steady.
More questions from Cotton and the producer: What do you mean? What happened to your father?
Now the camera weaves from side to side. Camera man’s breathing labors.
Nell glances up at the camera and SCREAMS! Cotton and producer SCREAM!
Camera hurtles down. BLACK.
The demon leaves Nell to possess Cotton, because an evangelical pastor with a camera crew is the most primo habitat a demon could hope to find. He goes home to his lovely family and his lovely town and is evil incarnate and no one notices but us.
Pretty moishe any other ending would have worked better.