I thought I hadn’t done a double review for a while so here we go.
The Last Exorcism follows Reverend Cotton Marcus played by Patrick Fabian (Bad Ass),a Southern pastor who has become disillusioned with the exorcisms he has made his living performing. With the help of a film crew he does one last case (the exorcism of the title) to reveal the tricks of the trade that he and other exorcists employ. The last case is that of Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell, The Day), a quiet, highly religious 14 year old who lives out in the countryside with her father and brother. Her father has kept her isolated at home since the death of his wife. Marcus bamboozles the family with hidden speakers and sleight of hand into thinking Nell is possessed by the demon Abalam who he then succeeds in exorcising from Nell. It would be a very short film if the revelation went as planned but unfortunately for all concerned that is not the case with things going from bad to worse with Nell turning up unexpectedly at the motel room.
I enjoyed The Last Exorcism up until the final twenty minutes or so where it quite frankly gets ridiculous. The idea of an exorcist not believing in demons is unusual, normally they are the ones trying to convince people that demons exist. It is also good that for most of the film it is unclear as to whether Nell is possessed or there is some more earthly reason for her actions. The Last Exorcism is filmed on hand cameras which leads to several shakey and blurry scenes which generally don’t add much to the film, however I can see how this technique fits in with the documentary storyline. There is a subtle use of soundtrack throughout which adds to the tension throughout. Even though I had seen the film before, I was sitting on the edge of my seat for most of it (until the ridiculous end that is) which is a good sign.
The Last Exorcism Part II catches up with Nell Sweetzer. The film opens with her being found in the kitchen of a random couple looking possessed. Unfortunately for the film this opening scene is the scariest of the whole film. Fast forwards several months and Nell is released from hospital into a midway house and starts to get her life on track, finding a job and experiencing her tentative first love. Soon however, signs begin to appear that Abalam has returned for Nell. This time there is no hint of the subtlety that was in the first film with demonic cults, voodoo priests and the apocalypse thrown seemingly at random into the confused plot of the film. One plus point in favour of the second film is that they managed to get the same actress to play Nell, something which doesn’t always happen with sequels (Cruel Intentions springs to mind).
Part II is a completely different ball game to the original film in both feel, execution and calibre. At least it doesn’t fall into the same trap of retelling the same story as the original in the same way (unlike Paranormal Activity series) and it is still connected to the original (unlike The Haunting In Connecticut). In these two respects I would consider Part II to be a successful sequel. It is just a shame that the plot is so weak.
I would recommend people to watch The Last Exorcism but not to bother with the second one.
Part I: 4/5
Part II: 2/5
This is my first review of such an iconic film and I am hesitant to write about such a well-known film. (I am doing so now because on my move to Sweden I didn’t pack many films, most of which turned out to be vampire films and I couldn’t justify three vampire reviews in a row to myself!) Most people have heard of The Exorcist and are aware of the now infamous pea-soup and 180⁰ head turning but The Exorcist has a lot more to offer. The film was adapted by William Blatty from his novel of the same name which was inspired by the true event that took place in the 1940s.
The film opens in Iraq following an archaeological dig run by an elderly catholic priest, Father Merrin (Max von Sydow, Minority Report) who discovers a series of unsettling omens including a demonic looking statue. What I particularly like about this sequence is that unlike many modern films the action actually takes place in the language of the country rather than English, although I don’t fully understand how the dig relates to the possession of a twelve year-old girl thousands of miles away. It is not until about fifteen minutes into the film that we meet the unfortunate Regan, a seemingly naïve girl on the cusp of adulthood, played by Linda Blair (Airport 1975) and her mother, Chris played by Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream) an actress currently working in Georgetown, Washington DC.
Director William Friedkin (The French Connection) spends just the right amount of time setting the scene and introducing the characters and their back stories, there is enough information to understand people’s motivation but not so much that the film drags. We see the deterioration in Regan as the demon takes hold and the battery of medical tests (that are traumatic in their own right), the doctor’s puzzlement and the clutching of straws that leads Chris to the Catholic Church to ask for an exorcism. Chris turns to Father Karras portrayed by Jason Miller (Rudy) currently in the midst of a crisis of faith who initially refuses to believe that possession even exists. However unnatural events including Regan speaking in several different languages and voices, telekinesis (moving objects with her mind) and finally a scar appearing on her stomach saying “help me” convinces Father Karras to seek permission to perform an exorcism. The eponymous exorcist is Father Merrin (who was introduced at the start of the film in Iraq) and has one of the most recognisable entrances in cinematic history. What unfolds when the exorcism takes place is cinematic history which keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat.
One of the best things about The Exorcist is the amount of time and effort spent on the special effects. There are obvious parts where special effects have been used to great effect, such as the head turning but it is the subtle ones that make it a great film. For example, von Sydow was actually in his forties but was made to look thirty year’s older thanks to make-up and you can’t tell. Friedkin went to extreme lengths to create his vision including keeping the room refrigerated to get realistic cold breath during the exorcism and many of the reactions in the film are genuine.
The Exorcist is an iconic film for a reason, although some of the fame derives from associated intrigues, such as the alleged use of subliminal messages to scare the viewer, and nevertheless it is well worth watching in its entirety.
Fun Fact: As an example of the film’s success The Exorcist was the first horror film to be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award and when taking into account inflation is Warner Brother’s highest grossing film.