With Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, Caleb Landry Jones. Directed by Daniel Stamm. Rated PG-13 for disturbing violent content and terror, some sexual references and thematic material. 87 minutes.
P. T. Barnum famously opined that there’s a sucker born every minute. These are the folks who went to movies like “The Blair Witch Project” and “Paranormal Activity” and thought they were seeing something real. The fake documentary can be a valid dramatic approach but there has to be a reason for it. When its sole purpose is to convince people that the contrived hokum on screen actually happened, it’s probably not going to be very good.
Which brings us to THE LAST EXORCISM. It is supposedly the story of Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), an evangelical minister who has been preaching since he was a child. Along the way he has helped people plagued by personal demons by treating them as if they were possessed by actual demons and “exorcising” them. When we meet him he is disillusioned and burnt-out and has seemingly lost his faith. In one scene he brags he can offer a recipe rather than any real message and his congregation will still respond, and then proceeds to do just that.
He agrees to go out on one last call for an exorcism, accompanied by a documentary crew. In spite of the fact that he feels guilty for his huckstering role, how likely is it he would allow filmmakers the opportunity to record his scam, even if his goal is to expose it? He arrives at the remote farm where Nell (Ashley Bell) is being tormented and performs the rituals. For Marcus that’s where it should end, except Nell doesn’t stay “cured.” Indeed, Marcus starts to think this might be for real and brings in the local minister – from whom Nell’s father (Louis Herthum) is estranged – because he’s feeling in over his head.
At 87 minutes, this all just a lot of spinning of wheels so we can get to the final “shocking” minutes where Marcus discovers what’s “really” going on and the documentary crew records the horrifying events as they unfold. Yeah, right. And if you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I can get for you at a wicked good price. (Think: if this were real, how come the film wasn’t destroyed to cover up the evidence?)
The unknown cast try to take their parts seriously. Fabian is engaging as the one who is talking directly to the camera for much of the time, and Bell is a sympathetic victim. Caleb Landry Jones, as her weird brother who warns Marcus and the filmmakers away, is more plot device than real person. Needless to say, this is not the sort of movie where viewers come out admiring the performances.
Indeed, “The Last Exorcism” is precisely the sort of disposable trash horror film that we’ve come to expect at the end of the summer, with the PG-13 rating enticing teens hoping to get a few thrills before they head back to school. Alas, there will be more excitement in the anticipation of what gullible viewers think they’re going to see than in what’s actually there. If this makes money it won’t be proof that audiences have unearthed a hidden gem. It will be proof that Barnum was right.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.