The Last Exorcism review - At last, a possession movie for lapsed horror acolytes to believe in.
Indie director Daniel Stamm’s intense slow-burner threads re-jigged exorcism basics through another oft-abused genre, the mock-doc and scares up smarts and scares to refresh both.
Easy genre regurgitations (pea soup) are cast out: this little devil delivers wicked new head-spins. Cleverly, the documentary thrust is doubly driven: by character and by a need to disarm doubting viewers.
A showman priest, Patrick Fabian’s Reverend Cotton Marcus charms us and channels our cynical perspective. Opting to oust one last demon in a filmed confessional, he answers the call of Louisiana farmer Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum).
Is Louis’ 16-year-old daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) possessed? Or is Cotton right in deducing that closer-to-home traumas – mum’s death, other implied horrors – have scalded her soul?
As Stamm and his writing tag-team simmer the psychological-satanic stew in ambiguity, the cast add flavoursome character studies. From these sure foundations, Stamm delivers chills that seep under the skin, aided by Hostel heavyweight Eli Roth’s input as producer.
Cotton realises he’s in deep as Nell’s behaviour intensifies from darkly darting eyes to animal abuse and then… extreme self-harm, like something’s assaulting her from within.
The intimacy of the docu-style is cunning: the screen shudders as we do. Engaged and rattled, we’re tensed for a killer pay-off – which is, sadly, where balls are dropped with a finale both over-busy and over-abrupt.
A letdown? Yes, but not enough to crush Stamm’s otherwise strong, creepy character horror. Be warned, though: don’t take your cat.
Stamm’s chiller puts care into scares, taking time to involve us before unleashing its demonic payload.