Exorcism’ satisfying in spite of conclusion

Posted Sept. 02, 2010, at 6:59 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:50 p.m.

In theaters

THE LAST EXORCISM, directed by Daniel Stamm, written by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland, 90 minutes, rated PG-13.

Not surprisingly, Daniel Stamm’s “The Last Exorcism” has nothing on “The Exorcist,” but for a while it does have something going for it. It builds suspense nicely, it takes its time to reveal its horror, and when it does offer it up, Stamm succeeds in unnerving you with what unfolds on-screen.

And then comes the ending.

The movie that inspired it won’t be revealed here — it’s such a rip-off of that film, it would ruin it for audiences if it were revealed. But when the ending hits, it’s tough not to feel cheated by it. The good news? The people at my screening seemed to be digging the movie until that moment.

Based on Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland’s script, “The Last Exorcism” is shot like a documentary, but it isn’t — just as last year’s “Paranormal Activity” wasn’t a documentary. It’s about a fraudulent Evangelical preacher named Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), who lives in Louisiana and has charmed the locals into believing he can perform exorcisms.

The irony is that Marcus doesn’t believe in God — he’s lost his faith. For him, performing exorcisms is something close to performance art. If he can make his subjects believe that he has pulled the devil out of them, Cotton believes he’s done his job and earned his pay.

Then along comes Nell (Ashley Bell), a sweet young woman who really is possessed. Her father (Louis Herthum) and bitter brother, Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones), know it, but initially Cotton thinks he’s just doing another routine job. Since he has decided that this will be his last exorcism, he allows a camera crew to come along with him and film the event. It’s their footage we see in the movie. Through them, what Cotton wants to show to the world is that exorcisms are just a load of hooey.

Too bad he doesn’t have a clue what awaits for him in Nell.

After forcing her to undergo a staged exorcism that includes plenty of praying, Bibles pressed to the meat of Nell’s forehead and even a crucifix that heaves puffs of smoke when Cotton presses a hidden button, he takes his money, checks on Nell, who now seems to be cured, and leaves the scene. Trouble is, when he and the film crew drive away, they start to question certain events that didn’t feel right to them while they were at the house. An interview with a boy at a restaurant causes them to rush back. Could it be that Nell’s father is raping her?

At this point, the movie boils with energy. When they return to the house, the walls are covered in a hive of satanic hoodoo. And then there’s Nell herself who does a little crab walk, speaks in tongues, slaughters animals at will and bends her body in unnatural angles. Since you like her and do feel something for her, the movie’s success at once relies on putting her through hell — and then pulling her out of it.

Cotton and company rise to the occasion, a real exorcism commences, and the movie takes an abrupt turn for the worse.

Still, here’s the thing: Movies are like a feast — and people always remember dessert. With this movie, the unfortunate news is that they’ll remember the ending, which is a shame because what comes before it is well acted, suspenseful and well done.

Grade: B-

On DVD and Blu-ray disc

Recommended:

Several titles are new to DVD and Blu-ray disc, including the ninth and final season of “Scrubs.” Straight through to the end, the show was smart, well-balanced lunacy with an undercurrent of romantic and dramatic tension that cut through the laughs.

In the halls of Sacred Heart Hospital, where the series takes place, the joke is that nothing is as sacred as it should be. Everything is free to be lampooned — hypochondriacs, love, cancer, you name it — but the writers know there are consequences to such behavior, and they deliver the fallout. What’s admirable about the show is that it consistently tried for something new, and while it didn’t always succeed in its leaps of faith, it made an effort and it ends with the sort of writing that does its nine seasons proud.

Additional television shows are recommended, including “Supernatural: Fifth Season” and the ninth season of the Superman-fueled “Smallville.” Each is available on DVD and Blu-ray disc. Fairing equally well is “Sons of Anarchy: Season Two,” (DVD, Blu-ray) which follows a band of outlaw bikers through all sorts of dramatic hell. Ron Perlman, Charlie Hunnam and Katey Segal star.

Things continue to look up for the fourth season of “Brothers & Sisters,” in which the Walkers successfully heave and sigh through their familial dramas with the help of a super cast that includes Rachel Griffiths, Calista Flockhart, Sally Field, Rob Lowe and Balthazar Getty.

And then there’s the sixth season of “The Office,” which examines what happens when your boss isn’t exactly the brightest bulb in the office. This season mocks and skewers authority with the same verve of the previous seasons, with Steve Carell once again pitch perfect as the geeky moron nobody respects. The supporting cast is excellent, and while the show never has bested its BBC counterpart, it can be beautifully cutting in its damning observations of who’s in charge, why they’re in charge and the sad realization that they have no business being in charge.

Avoid:

Break out the buzz saws and fire them up, folks, because the seventh season of “One Tree Hill” is available, not that anyone should cheer its arrival. The series bursts into living rooms with flurries of tiny melodramas, but no substance. Add to this a clutter of storylines that choke the momentum and you have a show that’s seriously lacking the tension and interest featured in the first few seasons.

The second season of the CW’s “Vampire Diaries” is on DVD and Blu-ray disc, and it struggles in the face of HBO’s terrific series “True Blood.”

Based on a series of books by L.J. Smith, “Vampire Diaries” follows Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev, looking bored), who has lost her parents in a car accident and lives with her overwhelmed aunt and juvenile delinquent brother. Stefan and Damon Salvatore are the show’s hunky vampires (pop culture doesn’t like ugly vampires), but with the writing and acting only marginal at best, the life ironically is sucked out of the series.

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s film reviews appear Fridays in Lifestyle, and his video movie previews appear Wednesdays in the Lifestyle section of bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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