When you see a film like Paranormal Activity gross so much money on a budget that was paper thin, you have to wonder why studios spend so much money on horror films when something like that was so simple and highly effective. Well you can toss another film into that same mix as The Last Exorcism was a film that was made for under $2 million…and pulled in thirty-six times that when worldwide box office receipts are taken into account. That is really just flat-out impressive; the film has some genuine thrills and scares in it too, so chalk this up as another low-budget horror film that is leagues beyond what studios are spending $20 – $50 million dollars on currently.
After years of performing “exorcisms” and taking believers’ money, Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) travels to rural Louisiana with a film crew to document what is to be his last so he can dispel what he believes is the myth of demonic possession. The dynamic reverend is certain that this will be another routine “exorcism” on a disturbed religious fanatic but instead comes upon the blood-soaked farm of the Sweetzer family and a true evil he would have never thought imaginable.
I had hoped that the trailers didn’t give way the scariest parts of this film, but they really kind of did—a shame, but a necessary evil I suppose. Truth be told though this film is genuinely creepy at times, not only because of the idea of demonic possession but how believable it all is made to seem. Granted it does create for a few dry periods in the film while our characters have to expound on situations to inform the viewer what’s going on and why, but what’s also nice is the film gives us someone to latch onto from the start that is skeptical of demonic possession and exorcisms in general. It’s a nice kind of reminder that if you believe in God you really have to believe in demons and all that as well; that should be obvious to many but at the same time it’s not something that’s really kept in the forefront of your thoughts most of the time.
In any case this movie is pretty…well, it’s not original. It seems that way at first, but it really just meshes together a few different films to make up a new one. Which truthfully speaking is what a lot of movies do—I mean how many truly original movies do we get a year? While I could complain and go on about how this film borrowed its camera style from movie X or that it’s opening or endings were ripped straight out of movie Z, and the middle was a direct copy of movie Y…it doesn’t matter. Movies inspire us and there’s no reason a director/writer/whatever combination can’t look to other things for inspiration. Granted there’s nothing subtle about the way The Last Exorcism plays off these elements as their own, but like Cloverfield all it took was a different camera setup to make it one of the most compelling monster movies in ages. The Last Exorcism wasn’t quite as good as that, but it still managed to pack in plenty of exciting and tense moments (as well as visually disturbing ones toward the end).
It’s a bit odd that a film that’s not even an hour and a half would feel like it drags on at times, but we do unfortunately get into that territory with the requisite exposition. Thankfully it’s broken up by creepy moments with our demon possessed girl (why is it never a boy that’s possessed anyway?) randomly appearing in places and speaking languages (Latin, naturally) that she shouldn’t know how to speak. The film definitely plays on tried and true clichés for its creepy visuals and story elements, but it all works in the end. I think having enveloped myself in worlds similar to this through the various seasons of Supernatural made me more accepting of the sometimes unbelievable things in the film…but that all just comes with the territory of enjoying a film for what it is.
Overall The Last Exorcism is Recommended simply because at an hour and a half it’s hard not to be entertained by the frequent creepy moments that pop up. While most were ruined by the trailers, hopefully you’ll have pushed those out of your mind by the time you pop this disc in.
Lionsgate pushes The Last Exorcism out on Blu-ray in a two-disc release. Inside the slipcover-draped Elite Blu-ray case is a pair of inserts and the two discs – one Blu-ray, and one DVD/digital copy disc. Menus for the Blu-ray are simple and easy to navigate and everything about this disc is nicely laid out and presented.
Moving onto the AVC encoded 1080p 1:78:1 transfer we get the usual flawless presentation out of Lionsgate…or at least as flawless as something like this can look. By its very nature it’s dirtier, grimier and less clear than something shot with the biggest and brightest camera equipment, but that’s fine—it helps add to the astrosphere and mood of the freaky scenarios that we’re put through. By the time we run into nighttime sequences it’s obvious that the 24 affect of extreme grain and distortion is in play, but, again…it just helps add to the realism. The audio is a DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix and unlike the visual presentation I doubt many (if any) will complain about this mix—it has so many diverse and unique channel moments as well as plenty of LFE output that it really gives your home theater setup a work out. The often neglected satellite speakers are full and alive with creaks and cracks and all that fun stuff and it’s really something that just helps sell the frightening moments of the movie all that much more.
• Actor and Director commentary with Daniel Stamm, Ashley Bell, Patrick Fabian and Louis Herthum
• Audio commentary with Producers Eli Roth, Eric Newman and Tom Bliss
• “Witnesses to an Exorcism: An Audio Commentary with a Haunting Victim, Deliverance Minister and Clinical Psychologist”
• “The Devil You Know: The Making of The Last Exorcism” featurette
• “Real Stories of Exorcism” featurette
• 2009 Cannes Film Festival teaser trailer
• Audition footage
• Theatrical trailer
Three commentaries more than make up for the forty-five minutes or so of featurettes that accompany the disc. It’s really all about those commentaries though—whether it’s the one with the actors or the producers, there’s plenty of information about this film to be gleaned from the tracks. Really the best one is the third one, “Witnesses,” which is kind of the real-world side of this film (if you can believe such things). Listening to their experiences and analysis is chilling at times, but it really aids your enjoyment of the film even more.
Overall a Recommended release—about five hours worth of extras when all is said and done.
The Last Exorcism is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.