Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Last Exorcism (Movie Review)

Many movies treating the subject of Exorcism inevitably draw from the well of “The Exorcist” in repetitive and uncreative ways, adding only new special effects and visuals to an already established status quo. “The Last Exorcism” certainly revisits some established concepts, but also carves a new path into the genre with its unique premise.

The movie is filmed in a documentary style, following a southern preacher who admits that his own belief in God is not genuine and that the many exorcisms he has performed were fake. He decides that exorcism should be exposed as fake and takes a camera crew with him to an exorcism in service to that end. The only problem is that this time he gets much more than he bargained for.

With a cast of unknowns, this movie is a great example of the wonderful kinds of performances that can come to life in film when a studio doesn’t limit themselves to established Hollywood faces. I found every character in this movie to be believable and fascinating to watch. Of particular note is the actress who played Nell, the 15 year old girl who is the subject of the Exorcism. Her sweetness and innocence is almost moving in and of itself and contrasts incredibly with her demon persona later in the film.

As one would expect with this style of filming, there are not a lot of special effects. Effort is made to ground things in realism and suspense is created more by what you don’t see than what you do. Those who have a fear of the unknown and like to sit on the edge of their seat may find a rewarding experience here.

That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have special effects. At least, I think it does. That, or the actress playing Nell is also an amazing contortionist! Some creepy and realistic looking body bending provides a few good spine tingles the last third of the movie.

There is plenty to talk about after seeing this movie, and I wish I could sit down with the writer and director to hear some of their thoughts about specific issues.

First off, there is no positive representation of genuine Christianity in this movie. One of the first lines out of the main character’s mouth is about how he learned from his dad how to “hook” people into his preaching and get their money. In this movie, Christianity is represented only by those who are not what they appear to be or are ignorant and superstitious.

A brief all-inclusive statement is made near the beginning of the film that “religions all over the world perform exorcisms”. And the foundational truths of Christianity are given no unique ability to combat evil. If anything, Christianity comes out of this movie looking pretty weak.

Having said that, this is not a movie that will line up with an Atheistic worldview, either. This flick provides great opportunity to talk about demons and whether or not they exist during the drive home. The main character also makes it clear near the beginning that if you are a Christian and if you believe in Jesus, you have to believe in demons, because Jesus taught that they existed and performed exorcisms. So in this respect, the movie does uphold the basic value of logical faith, as opposed to picking and choosing what we want to believe from the Bible.

During an attempted Exorcism, the preacher spouts off scripture in an attempt to ward off the demon, to which the demon mockingly replies “Words, words ,words!” Though some may see this as an invalidation of the power of God’s words, I saw it as a validation of Christ’s power and not our own. The Bible is not a magic spell-book that we can recite “incantations” from to defeat evil. It is Christ himself who defeats evil or keeps it at bay.

An odd cliché the film does fall into is the upholding of Latin as a "spiritual" language. Given that the Bible was written primarily in Hebrew and Greek, this felt like Catholic traditional baggage more than anything else. I’d love to see a movie of this kind where the demons speak in Greek or Hebrew, rather than Latin.

The preacher also uses an old Latin tome, not the Bible, as his primary informational resource about demons. He doesn’t believe in demons, but it seems to be established in the film that real Christian exorcists would validate this mysterious Latin “demon encyclopedia”. Though it is never explained why this book is considered authoritative.

Like much religious superstition, this book is given authority not because it has been tested for historical authenticity, but simply because it is old, religious, and written in a dead language. Frankly, I’m ready for Hollywood and everyone else to get over using this kind of thinking. It just doesn’t make any sense.

If you like scary/supernatural movies and don’t mind the documentary style, this is a really enjoyable flick. You’ll also likely have lots to talk and think about afterward.

Rated PG-13 for disturbing violent content and terror, some sexual references and thematic material.

Quality: 9.0/10

Relevance: 9.5/10

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