Making the Grades
In the Deep South, Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) is a well-known preacher who began working in the ministry as a child and performed his first exorcism while still an adolescent. Now as an adult he often receives impassioned pleas from those seeking relief from demons. But Cotton, who has perfected the showmanship aspect of his sermons, is facing a crisis of faith.
After reading about exorcisms that resulted in the death of children, he determines to expose these acts as fraud. To do so, the religious shyster (with all the saintly sincerity of an unscrupulous used car salesman) decides to accept one last invitation to reclaim an innocent soul. While doing so, he plans to expose all his tricks of the trade to a documentary film crew he is bringing along.
With a smirk on his face, Connor drives with his sound specialist (Iris Bahr) and a cameraman to the Louis Sweetzer farm where he is greeted by a distraught father (Louis Herthum) with strong fundamentalist beliefs. In an emotional voice, Louis recalls the recent death of his wife and the impact it has had on their family. He also introduces the trio to his son Caleb (Caleb Jones) and his teenaged daughter Nell (Ashley Bell). He accuses the innocent looking young girl of killing and disemboweling the family’s farm animals and presents her bloody clothes as evidence of her deeds. Nell, on the other hand, has no recollection of the nightly activities she is supposedly involved in.
Employing a few slight-of-hand tricks to convince Louis of his power, Cotton finally agrees to execute an exorcism but only after he has personally prepared the bedroom where the event will happen with props that will help simulate a departing devil. With the camera rolling, the purging takes place. And by nightfall the team has left the farm and settled comfortably in their hotel rooms five miles away. Then Cotton wakes in the night to find Nell standing beside his bed in a blood splattered nightgown. Wide-eyed and unresponsive, the girl looks more possessed than ever.
If the erratic movements of the handheld camera haven’t begun to bother you by this point in the film, the increasing gore might. Taking a knife, Nell slashes open her brother’s face. (The act takes place off screen although Caleb’s blood soaked mouth and clothes are seen as he tries to stop the bleeding.) Lashing out like a wild animal, Nell also becomes increasingly demonic as the plot continues, contorting herself into strange positions and breaking her own fingers. Throughout the production, the moviemakers maintain the notion that this is a factual film, much like producers promoted the reality of paranormal activity in The Fourth Kind).
Unfortunately, the script does little more than further the negative stereotypical portrayals of religious believers as fanatics and Southerners as illiterate, incestuous and superstitious. Using the simple tactics of camera angles, scary sounds and darkened sets rather than an excess of complicated computer generated special effects, the movie manages to create a sense of suspense. However the focus on satanic rituals may disturb some young viewers or spark a curiosity in the occult among others.
Though this film is titled with the promising adjective "last", a sampling of similar type horror movies (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Haunting in Connecticut, Dark Water and The Skeleton Key) already on DVD shelves, proves it might be too optimistic to hope that this is truly The Last Exorcism we’ll see.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Last Exorcism.
How does this storyline contribute to negative attitudes about different groups, including religious believers? Is this an accurate depiction of persons of faith? How does it impact the way viewers may look at Southerners? Do we see any positive portrayals of those hailing from this part of the country?
While computer graphics are used in many movies to create special effects, this film relies predominantly on age-old tactics. Are these devices, such as the blood splattered camera lens, spooky sounds and dark sets, effective in creating suspense? How does the cost of using these methods compare with paying for computer animation?
Are there dangers in dabbling in the occult? If so, what might they be?