Released in 2010 and heavily influenced by The Exorcist, the Eli Roth-produced The Last Exorcism is one a host of modern found footage horrors. Working on the basis that the footage you’re watching was found after the traumatic events of the film, it became a popular movement in Hollywood after the staggering success of The Blair Witch Project. The micro-budget of most found footage films results in them standing a far greater chance of being commercially successful and recent years have seen them become the standard format for the majority of cinema-released horror films.
The Last Exorcism takes the found footage genre down the route of a documentary which follows preacher Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) as he sets out to disprove exorcisms as hoaxes. Having lost his faith after people were hurt during an exorcism, he feels it has become his duty to warn the world of the dangers of believing in possession. He and the crew head down toNew Orleansto investigate the case of Nell (Ashley Pell) a young home-schooled girl who appears to be slaughtering animals while in a trance. As Cotton and the team present the family with a fake exorcism, proving what nonsense the process is, things take a turn for the worse.
Like many small-budget horror films, the production team have to work hard to create tension and suspense with minimal resources. The Last Exorcism cleverly uses the talking heads method with Cotton as the mouthpiece for the scepticism of the audience. His creation of a performance that entrances the people who suspect they’re possessed is very cleverly deconstructed in The Last Exorcism and helps to increase the knowing from the audience that he can’t have it all his own way. This is a horror film after all, and the audience are aware that something is going to have to go wrong in order to create the narrative promised.
The Last Exorcism’s scenery of post-Katrina New Orleans is suitably alien in appearance, which only helps to further create atmosphere, especially as the ornate, but rundown main house slowly veers into shot. There’s even the token local who tries to send them back, in this case Nell’s brother Caleb played to eerie perfection by Caleb Landry Jones who remains a problem to the team until he realises that they are frauds at which point he, chillingly, backs off completely.
Fabian is a sensation as the faithless preacher, giving a performance that is equal parts showman and dramatic hero. As the events unfold on the farm, he begins to desperately try and force the truth of events to the surface, causing him to sink closer to his faith. Then, just as The Last Exorcism seems to conclude itself satisfyingly, there’s a further twist. This is where the wheels well and truly fall off. It’s so needless and leaves a terribly sour taste in your mouth. The Last Exorcism was on course to being one of the best horrors in recent years, but the unpalatable finale scuppers those chances.