Demonic possession is no laughing matter. Having your body overtaken by the minions of Beelzebub powerless to stop them from forcing you to perform their evil bidding does not usually lead to riotous chuckling.
However ever since The Exorcist defined the demon possession genre shocking the 70’s with its tale of a young girl with bad skin and a potty mouth full of pea soup its raft of rubbish sequels and a pile of parodies have drastically lessoned the impact of exorcism.
From the Leslie Nielsen fronted Repossessed to Scary Movie 2 with a ton of sketches and send-ups in-between audiences became more aware of these spoofs than the real thing.
Thankfully it seems demons are de rigueur again. The immense success of Paranormal Activity and the visceral [REC 2] which both followed the critically acclaimed and utterly brilliant Drag Me to Hell has meant that the general public are once again paranoid about possession.
And now we have The Last Exorcism, a faux-documentary presented as found footage, which follows faith faltering evangelical minister Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) who sets out to expose the lies and tricks behind his ministry and its supposed faith healing.
With a camera crew in tow he selects a letter at random and heads out to rural Louisiana to help a desperate and devout farmer who believes his daughter Ashley (Ashley Bell) to be a victim of possession after his livestock is butchered with no explanation.
However things take a turn for the worse as the outsiders are drawn into the insular and volatile family’s lives and a fight for the life and soul of the seemingly innocent young girl. Will Cotton’s last fake exorcism turn into his first real life encounter with malevolent Hellspawn or are some other more earthly evil powers at work.
What sets this film apart from other possession horrors such as The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Dorothy is the central character of Cotton played brilliantly by Patrick Fabian imbuing the faithless cynic with a depth way beyond his one liners and showmanship.
Staring out almost as a comedy and skilfully lulling the audience into a false sense of security the film gradually and cleverly descends into nail biting tension which twists and turns as Cotton’s hokum turns to horror and Ashley seems truly to be under the spell of the Devil.
The character and concept are based on a famous documentary from the 70’s called Marjoe about a preacher revealing the fallacy and fraud of his religions practices and the script written by relative new comers Andrew Gurland and Huck Botko is improvised around by the cast adding to the reality already created by the documentary style.
Described as a character based horror the small cast are equally excellent especially Ashley Bell as the naïve immature Ashley and Louis Herthum (last seen in everyone’s favourite Lockjaw: Rise of the Kulev Serpent) as her repressed religious father.
Packed with some great spin chilling scenes especially when Ashley takes the camera on in a late night rampage and when Cotton and the crew head back to the house after a last minute change of heart the horror delivers even if the climax and final few frames of the film perhaps misses the mark by being a bit too unoriginal and obvious.
An entertaining movie offering a twist on the genre with enough scares to keep any horror fan happy The Last Exorcism may not be the new Exorcist but it will definitely drive the audiences to fear Satan and his minions once more whether they believe in him or not.