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Toronto After Dark Film Festival Review: The Last Exorcism

The Last Exorcism is my kind of horror film; it’s not gore porn. I love good storytelling, and that is exactly what this film offers in addition to some good scares, and humour. Shot documentary-style, the film pulls you in from the first frame featuring the charismatic lead actor, Parick Fabian playing the equally charismatic character, Cotton Marcus. In the scene, Cotton, a successful preacher, explainins to the camera how he works his congregation. Indoctrinated as a child into the family business of preaching, Cotton is so persuasive that he could talk a lobster into a pot of boiling water. In one scene, he tells the documentary crew (a director and cameraman) that he could throw a banana bread recipe into his sermon and the congregation wouldn’t even notice. When he proves this oratory slight of hand, we are hooked. Cotton is preacher who works magic, but lacks faith in God; preaching is just a job to that allows him to provide for his family, and we want to know more about this mesmerist. The fact that the camera loves his face adds to the magnetic pull of Cotton Marcus.

Hitching a ride along with the documentary crew, we follow Cotton to Louisiana where he will perform an exorcism on 16 year-old Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell), whose father thinks she is possessed by the devil. Farm animals have been slaughtered at night and Nell's clothes are covered in blood that cannot be explained (she has no memory of leaving the house at night). Plunged into this domestic drama, we can’t help feeling suspicious about the family dynamics. We are continually questioning what we see and hear. Is this a case of a religious zealot trying to control his teenage daughter? What’s the fulminating, mysterious brother hiding? Does the daughter just need psychiatric treatment for psychotic episodes or is something truly unearthly going on?

What I love about The Last Exorcism, is that we see everything from the point of view of the camera; its lens is our eye. With present day reality shows and paparazzi chasing celebrities and fauxlebrities, we’ve become so used to cameras documenting everything (trying for the “money shot”) that we never question why the camera is still capturing certain scenes. We want to see everything. We need to see everything. Each time we think we have a logical explanation of what we see and/or hear, something happens that cannot be explained easily. We are kept off balance until the last unexpected scene where we all go, “Oh, my God!”

Actress, Ashley Bell is a treasure. Seeing her in person at the Toroto After Dark premiere wearing her short sexy dress, and her tresses tumbling down her back, it is hard to believe that she is the frumpy, shy, sweet teenager in the film. She inhabits the role of the naive Nell with a charm that it makes us feel protective towards her. Like the documentary director in the film, we want to scoop her up out of that house and get her some place where she can be helped and taken care of. Given the title, you can’t help but make comparisons with Linda Blair, but Ashley Bell has her own style down pat. This is not a remake and she is not channeling Linda Blair. Nothing about this movie is like the 1970’s version.

For those of you who like gore porn and slaher films, be warned: this is not a film for you. I mean it. Don’t go see it and then badmouth it on Facebook and Twitter because it wasn’t bloody enough. Let those of us who enjoy intelligent, creepy films have our chance to see something on the big screen that we can rave about. We who love the original Exorcist, The Amityville Horror and Poltergeist demand our share of the horror movie pie.

Thanks to producer Eli Roth and the filmmakers for allowing the Toronto After Dark fans a sneak peek at this film.

The Last Exorcism open in theatres August 27th. The film is directed by Daniel Stamm and produced by Eli Roth and written by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland

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