Friday, September 24, 2010

"The Last Exorcism"

Just a quick note to say – if you like being scared, go and see this film in the cinema. It is very scary and lacks any of that ironic pomo crap that has been bedevilling horror films recently. And it has no vampires or zombies either.

The film's premise is simple enough – a disenchanted Southern US preacher and exorcist is having a documentary made in which he is going to demonstrate what a load of bunkum the whole exorcist business is. What the preacher intends to be his last exorcee turns out to be of a home-schooled teenage girl living on a farm with her religious lunatic father and creepy brother. The father has called in the preacher because the girl is apparently sleep-walking at night and mutilating farm animals, remembering nothing when she wakes. Piece of piss, thinks the preacher. Things turn out to be more complicated.

The whole film is supposedly footage shot for the documentary. The actors all seem to be unknowns, or at least people I do not recognise, giving it a certain cinema verité feel. The film starts out jauntily enough, as the preacher shows how he goes about his everyday work of ripping off people, but the atmosphere becomes oppressive once we get out to the farmhouse. It is easy to see that there is something very bad going on here, but the film keeps you guessing as to whether it is demonic possession or a disturbed and vulnerable girl undergoing psychotic episodes. Either of these would of course be a disturbing explanation for what is happening.

The actors deliver some fine performances. I must particularly salute Patrick Fabian as the preacher, who gives us an engaging mixture of smarminess, exploitativeness, and yet a troubled sense of self and drive to do what is right. Ashley Bell as the girl is also very impressive, equally adept at portraying troubled innocence and the awfulness of apparent possession. The subtle performance of the father is also very striking, but all the others in this small cast do their job very well, managing to come across like they are not acting and so maintaining the illusion that this is really happening.

Watching this film on a weekday afternoon made for a particularly spooky experience. I had the Savoy 2 more or less to myself, and there is nothing like combining the disorientation of emerging from a darkened cinema into the bright afternoon with the aftermath of a film as shocking as this.

An inuit panda production

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