29 August, 2010

The Last Exorcism

I went to see The Last Exorcism today, and as much as I hate to speed up the end of the summer, it was a good jump start to the horror season (fall/halloween/shocktober). I first heard about the movie from my brother, and then again from my friend, both in passing, and my reaction was, "huh, another exorcism movie?" That's not to say that there's anything wrong with exorcism movies - The Exorcist holds a special place in my heart, and the theme touches on demonology which is a topic I have always been fascinated by. But, when it comes to picking out movies to go see in the theater, I have to be selective. I would love to go out and see every horror movie that comes out - and I even tried that once, for a very brief period of time - but considering my finances, and the ease of viewing films in the comfort of my home, I tend only to go out for the ones that really catch my interest.

And there are films like Paranormal Activity - though rare, and hard to anticipate before seeing - that are good enough that getting to see them in the theater is a treat. So it's worth taking the risk every now and again. I had heard that this new exorcist movie was really scary, and I read that it took a documentary approach, and the opportunity came up, so I decided to see it. I'm glad I didn't go into the movie with a lot of knowledge, or supposed knowledge about it - I don't even think I remember the trailer, though I probably saw it once or twice - because it's good to go into a movie fresh (rather than risk being disappointed that the supposed army of Predators turns out to be a single Predator, with just two and a half more throughout the movie).

Anyhow, the plot of the movie revolves around a preacher who doesn't really believe, but is nevertheless a good performer at his church (the "praise Jesus!" kind). He's done lots of exorcisms throughout his career, and thus, as an insider, knows how fake they are. But because there are potential dangers involved with these exorcisms (accidental deaths and the like), he wants to reveal the hoax for what it is. So his plan is to film one such exorcism, while revealing all his tricks, so the public can know once and for all what a sham it all is. Of course, it's not spoiling much if I tell you things don't go quite as smoothly as planned.

Actually, the movie does a good job of keeping you guessing at what's really going on, even through (and beyond) the end of the movie. Is she really possessed or not? Is it a demon or a psychological disturbance? What are each character's motives? And the ending, for me, was really exciting.

SPOILERS (Stop reading if you haven't seen the film and don't want it to be spoiled)

At the end, the movie veers left into Rosemary's Baby territory, with a bonfire and a satanic ritual and everything. The only thing missing is the demon himself. Of course, seeing it would erase any questions, but for once, I would love a documentary-style cinéma vérité film to actually have the balls to completely throw out realism, and conjure up some really wicked looking monsters a la the fx in John Carpenter's The Thing. (Cloverfield was entertaining, but J.J. Abrams' CG Colossus wasn't horror enough). It wouldn't be "realistic", but damn would it be scary. Like a nightmare playing out on the silver screen.

I really like how, as the plot twists and turns, you get all these different possible explanations behind the possession/exorcism, and possessions/exorcisms in general. Like, there's the question of whether it's real or a hoax, and if it's real, if it's actually the devil, or is it merely a psychological condition. I love how, at one point, the reverend determines that the girl is suffering not from possession but from shame - from her severely conservative upbringing. She's so ashamed of having gone off and gotten herself pregnant that she's killing livestock in cold blood, and lashing out at her brother, and she's convinced that she's been possessed by Satan. Ha. Too bad the explanation then veers away from even that. Though the territory it occupies instead is even cooler.

A couple things bothered me about the film. They go on about how this is a "young girl" being possessed, when the character is all of 16, and the actress is probably around 24. The girl in The Exorcist (the unforgettable Linda Blair) was 14, playing a convincing 12. Now in backwoods Louisiana, I could see an overzealous, overprotective father treating his 16-year-old daughter like an infant, pure and innocent (aside from the demonic possession), but even the somewhat more worldly reverend repeatedly mentions how he doesn't like getting involved with "kids".

Now if ever there was an advantage to casting a 24-year-old in this role, it would be to milk the scene where she takes off her clothes, wanders outside with the camera in hand, to the shed in the back yard at night. But the most you get to see is a bare shoulder. In fact, you can see more (which still isn't a lot) in a different scene, when she's wrapped in a towel presumably after bathing. The aforementioned scene is a perfect opportunity for some good old-fashioned nudity, and they completely waste it. She proceeds to bash a cat to bloody bits in that shed, and though the camera is jerky, you at least get flashes of the carnage, but you don't get to see any bare skin at all. Sigh. It speaks for itself.


So maybe it's not perfect, but I enjoyed it, and I thought it was very good. I always feel the inclination to visit the IMDb forum for a film after I watch it, to catch the buzz, and hear what people are talking about. But unfortunately, the average poster on IMDb is a moron, and there's a lot of threads complaining about the ending, which I thought was awesome. Whatever. Regarding the film, I liked it, and if it's within your scope of interest, I recommend it.

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