Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Last Exorcism

Halloween Movie

In the Drive review, I talked about how stingy I am about going to the theaters. There was a time in my life when all I did was go to the movies. It's one of my favorite past times. Watching the colorful explosions, hearing the sound mixes and score, seeing the giant pretty faces (sometimes bodies) on the big screen, inspired by epic wide shots of landscapes and also, experiencing a good audience reaction is priceless. I was there when Maximus took down the chariot in Gladiator. The audience clapped and cheered and at one point we started to chant "MAXIMUS!" For that one moment, everyone in the audience was united. Just thinking about it again gives me goose bumps. Then there was this one time watching The Others, we sat with the overflow crowd of the sold out American Pie 2. This audience was mostly girls and wow, what a fun time we had hearing the crowd scream in unison during the scary moments. Sometimes, even ignorant crowd reactions can be funny. Once, during the opening of a Chinese film starring Jet Li (李連杰) and directed by Zhang Yimou (張藝謀), Hero (英雄), someone yelled out, "I didn't know I had to read! Motherfucker, I can't read!" In any case, you might go to the movies for the majestic cinematography, or for the sake of a date, or for the popcorn, or just to escape the heat during the summer or the cold during the winter... Me... I love crowd reactions and when I got my first real taste of it during Gladiator, I kept on going back for more.

What does my recent frugal sensibility and my love for audience reaction has to do with The Last Exorcism? I regret that I missed this in the theaters. I decided not to watch The Last Exorcism at the theaters because Eli Roth's name was attached and it's another mockumentary type of horror. Didn't the Blair Witch Project run that well dry with, sadly, one attempt? Also, I understand Eli Roth's work but, at the same time, I just "don't get it." I do not mind torture horror movies, or super gory horror movies. I love the Saw series. So, maybe Eli Roth will grow on me in the future? Eli Roth did not direct The Last Exorcism he's the producer and was sitting on this project for a while until he found a director for it: Daniel Stamm. Stamm previously wrote and directed a film in a documentary format called A Necessary Death. The film impressed Eli Roth and he wanted Stamm's vision for The Last Exorcism. I can say what I will about Eli Roth but he knows his horror and, he knows his talents. Later on, Ashley Bell was brought on board as the possessed girl after an amazing screen test. Patrick Fabian also had a great screen test as the Reverend Cotton Marcus. There's an interesting story with one of the screen tests: Caleb Landry Jones had an alright screen test and was told to come back later after he's less high. He told the casting crew that he didn't smoke up, that's how he looks like normally and he gets that a lot. The casting crew decided to cast him anyway because they were impressed with his subtleties so, to our benefit and, according to Patrick Fabian, to the ensemble's benefit, Caleb got the job. How do I know all this? Blu Ray extras baby! At first, I got the movie from Netflix. I was so impressed by it that I went and bought the Blu Ray.

I really like The Last Exorcism and I can only imagine what the crowd reaction was like at the theaters. I wish I was there. There is a dark and creepy mood in this movie which is a result of the supernatural subject and the documentary format blending well together. The credit definitely goes to Daniel Stamm and his cinematographer Zoltan Honti. They did a fantastic job holding the audience's vision to their mercy. They have an understanding which most horror mockumentaries tend to be ignorant about, that the set up is as important as the scare. Another important factor are believable actors to draw us into this faux reality. Patrick Fabian as Reverend Cotton Marcus has a lot of on screen charisma. He sold me right off the bat in the beginning of the movie with his banana bread recipe sermon. I don't remember seeing Patrick Fabian in anything else. The production crew of the The Last Exorcism made it a point to cast "unknowns." The film crew following the Reverend around is made up of two people: the cameraman, Daniel Moskowitz (played by Adam Grimes) and Iris Reisen (played by Iris Bahr). Iris Bahr is the only person I can positively recognize in this film. She was in "The Ski Lift" episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Reverend Cotton Marcus is hoping that the documentary can expose exorcism as a fraud. Cotton Marcus grew up as a child preacher and comes from a long line of exorcists. He believes that exorcism is more of a psychological practice than supernatural. Especially after he read a news article of a child's death from asphyxiation during an exorcism. This also shook his faith in religion. For the sake of the documentary, Cotton Marcus answers a cry for help at an old Louisiana farm house. This is when we meet Nell Sweetzer, played by the astonishing Ashley Bell.

If Patrick Fabian's charisma was not enough to pull you into the story, Ashley Bell's charm definitely will. When we first see her as the possessed girl, Nell Sweetzer, she comes off as a heart warming sweet young lady. I didn't want to believe that anything awful had or will happen to her in the film. Why would anyone or anything would want to hurt such a lovely girl?! Nell's story is truly heart breaking. Until the ending of The Last Exorcism the audience was free to wonder if Nell was really possessed by a demon. Was she abused by her alcoholic father or, was she bullied by her bother Caleb? The father, Louis Sweetzer (played by Louis Herthum), is a devout Christian who lost his wife to cancer and afraid that he might lose his daughter's soul to the devil. I might have seen Louis Herthum in other movies before, he does look familiar. Caleb Landry Jones is Nell's brother Caleb, who holds his own whenever he's on screen. The casting crew was right about his subtle talents. After The Last Exorcism, Caleb Landry Jones appeared in X-Men: First Class and also did a memorable acting job as Banshee. Back to The Last Exoercism... So, was the family the reason for the possession problem? Keeping that question in mind, this is where Ashley Bell is astonishing. Her acting kept us wondering the true nature of her possession. With minimal special effects and make up along with great lighting, Ashley Bell as the nastier possessed Nell, the sweet girl is totally gone and it's easy to believe that another person or thing took over. Is this schizophrenia? Even some of the seemingly impossible body contortions are real. Ashley Bell is double jointed and studied dance, she can preform some cringe worthy uncomfortable "bends." For one of the exorcism scenes, Ashley had an idea during the night before the shoot to bend the way she did and the director Daniel Stamm decided to use it.

As I said, it's until the end of The Last Exorcism that we are left wondering. The ending drew a lot of arguments for and against the film. Whether you like or hate the film, the ending is key. I for one, love it. I believe it completes the journey of Reverend Cotton Marcus. There are talks of a sequel. I just hope the sequel doesn't diminish the Reverend's actions at the end of this film. I highly recommend The Last Exorcism for Halloween or anytime of the year for that matter. It just seems a bit more creepier during Halloween. I really like the film (did I say that already?) but, it's not without its flaws. For me, personally, I don't like the idea of music being edited in. Then again, The Last Exorcism is edited as a finished documentary and not as a "found footage" type of realism. On the subject of editing, Shilpa Sahi did an amazing job editing The Last Exorcism. She went through hundreds of footage and chose great moments for the final cut. Then there is the cameraman. Whenever we don't see the cameraman (Daniel Moskowitz) on screen, it is the film's cinematographer, Zoltan Hontim, navigating a huge and heavy camera through the cramped areas during one of the hottest summers in Louisiana. There are four possession movies I truly like and The Last Exorcism is #2. This is due to the great cast and crew. I almost wrote this movie off as nothing but a gimmicky draw. I'm glad I didn't.


HALLOWEEN LESSON: heavy boots helps with back bends

GEEK CREDS: Ashley Bell's parents are Victoria Carroll and Michael Bell. Both of her parents are voice actors. Her mother, Victoria Bell, did voice acting on Scooby Doo, Batman the Animated Series, The Smurfs and a whole lot more. Ashley's father, Michael Bell, did a whole bunch of voice acting as well but, what blows my mind is his voice work on Transformers (80's animation). He was the voice of:
  • Prowl
  • Sideswipe
  • Scrapper
  • Brainstorm

No comments:

Post a Comment