So this can only be fun, right?
Alright, so here it is. I saw the trailer for The Last Exorcism, which was kind of uninspiring, and what with my slight weariness of the whole digi-cam horror movie thing ( Paranormal Activity 2? really guys.) I went in expecting something shitty. Probably occasionally jarring but ultimately yet another derivative entry into the most exhausted horror sub-genres around at the moment. The timelessly exploited exorcism movie, and the upstart digi-cam horror. Which they're are so fucking many of these days I lose count. But isn't it great when a movie shows up you're expectations of it? When its good when it really had no right to be? Really, really yes.
I think I liked this movie for the same reasons I liked the Last House On The Left remake last year. It doesn't necessarily cover the most original material, but it approaches it intelligently and excitingly enough to give it a fresh perspective, and contains a very strong central performance, that lends it that bit of class your standard horror movie lacks. In that film it was Garret Dillahunt, who lent his psychopath enough nuance and character it lent more horror to pretty horrific situations. In this its the performance of Patrick Fabian, a veteran journeyman actor. The kind of guy who has an IMDB page longer then the San Andreas Fault, with extended roles in Big Love and Veronica Mars. Here, he plays Cotton Marcus, a reverend and a sham exorcist, who falsifies exorcisms in the name of clearing the superstition from the superstitious. Complete with I-Pod containing 150 demon sounds and a cross modified to expel smoke, its a neat characterization, made all the more impressive by having Marcus essentially a shill, a man whose long since lost his faith and continues to preach because it pays the bills and because, well, he's good at it. Fabian never plays the guy as a joke, enriching what could have been loathsome by lending credibility and a charming likability to the character, and for a horror movie in particular paying attention to the people in this way is something I appreciated.
Similarly, the film is nowhere as conveyor belt digi-cam as I expected. The first two-thirds play as more of an edited mockumentary of sorts, only with the emphasis not being comedy but horror. Once the exorcism starts, I'll grant that things get a little more familiar, but these sequences are strongly executed, featuring a great Linda Blair impression from Ashley Bell. That's probably a bit mean, Bell is good and lends enough shade to the character to go beyond mere copycat. The resolution will have its detractors, arguably rightly so, but for me its strengths outweigh its weaknesses and director Daniel Stamm has a flair for executing the more horrific moments, and overall I think its a successful little horror movie, as intelligent as its is genuinely frightening and misguided ending or no, there's enough storytelling panache here to dispel any notions of it just being the next thing to jump on the bandwagon. This could be because I'm partial to horror and all, but this is one of the most pleasant surprises the year has offered thus far.