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The Last Exorcism - Blu-ray Movie Review

4 stars

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The Last Exorcism Movie Review

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Returning some natural gothic horror to the state of Louisiana instead of a nation’s concern over rising floodwaters, The Last Exorcism conjures up some pretty righteous scares.  Consider Director/Editor Daniel Stamm’s film The Blair Witch Project of the South.  It feels real.  It acts real.  It scares real.  Letting its atmospheric location soak up some genuine frights, The Last Exorcism, even when it’s not cranking up possessed souls, is a hell-raising good time.

Unfolding as an engaging documentary about one priest’s attempts to put an end to the practice of exorcisms, The Last Exorcism continually “tricks” its audience with an 'Is She or Isn’t She' set-up that remains constantly engrossing.  Wishing to prove the fraud in his own life-long ministry, evangelical minister Reverend Cotton Marcus (a wholly engaging Patrick Fabian), agrees to film a documentary about the tricks behind the exorcisms performed in the past.  Enter Nell (Ashley Bell), a reclusive and “possessed” farmer’s daughter.  Chosen at random via letters for help, Marcus takes his exorcism tools and the documentary crew deep into the rural backwoods of Louisiana in order to prove the simple-minded hoax behind Nell’s case.  What transpires instead is continual challenge to both Marcus and the audience in a battle between Faith vs. Science, including a final act that challenges an all too easily assumed interpretation of events.

Produced by horror maestro Eli Roth, The Last Exorcism is clever as hell.  Blistering with fright, the film interacts with its audiences with dialogue that questions the very events witnessed by the crew.  While Marcus never doubts his own lack of Faith, the truth of Nell’s possession is always just out of reach for the audience.  That’s part of the fun of the picture.  Is she or isn’t she?  Rewind the footage.  Play it again, Sam.  Both scenarios are played out, dangled in front of the audience, and then possibly answered, but the real journey -- that of the complex Reverend Marcus -- is left for others to piece together via the “found footage” this film has assembled.  Yet, Fabian's not the only actor delivering a star-making performance here. The entire cast -- Bell, Caleb Landry Jones, Iris and Louis Herthum - are phenomenal in their roles of the southern outsiders.

While the marketing campaign belittles the crisp intelligence behind this film with cheap and schlocky thrills, Stamm’s film, as a whole, stands on its own as a testament to what works about the gimmick behind the mockumentary explosion in horror: charisma.  Smarter than Paranormal Activity and more engaging than The Blair Witch Project, the film isn’t so much about an exorcism as it is about its complex lead character in Reverend Marcus and its saturated location.  Yes, The Last Exorcism, written by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland, has some highly recognizable images in the pantheon of pop horror.  And, yes, the film has several scenes of jumpy fright.  But, listen to the teenage naysayers who are completely bored by the intelligence of the film.  For the patient and analytical viewer, Stamm’s film offers so much more than just empty-headed frights.

That’s not to say this picture isn’t scary or without faults.  It is both.  It’s naturally scary and effective in its use of what we expect from a horror picture, yet it also ends as abruptly as it is expected.  No shocks.  No surprises, but, thankfully, Stamm gets an awesome performance from his lead character and a sequence of events that play off expectation, stereotype, and twist together to offer a memorable film.  Bottom line?  Ignore the hokey studio marketing campaign and go see this film.  It doesn't fix the problems inherent with the endings of these types of "true" movies, but it is one hell of a ride through a night darker than most.

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{2jtab: Blu-ray/DVD Details}

Component Grades
Movie

Blu-ray Disc
4 stars

4 stars



Blu-ray Experience
4 stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - January 4, 2011
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles
: English, English SDH, Spanish
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
Discs:
25GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD); Digital copy (as download); DVD copy; BD-Live; Social network features; Mobile features

There is a low-fi ambiance that surrounds this mockumentary, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the transfer suffers as a result.  Stylistically, this is a pretty intense 1080p transfer with lots of nice and interesting things going on throughout its running time. Yes, it’s bleached and spotty and very VHS-like at times, but that’s the intended visual flair for the film and it really works in amping up the insanity of this movie. The sound is also quite good, presented here in a grossly involving DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, and it shows off Nathan Barr’s score effectively.

Supplements:

Commentary tracks:

Surprisingly, there are three wonderful commentaries on this stuffed release.

  • One commentary features producers Eli Roth, Eric Newman, and Tom Bliss.  They have bragging rights as they worked very hard to make sure this film works as well as it does as a character piece.
  • The second commentary is provided by director Stamm, and actors Bell, Fabian, and Herthum.
  • Yet, it is the third that is the fascinating one; provided by a psychologist, a minister, and a former exorcist victim, this commentary never becomes dull as the effects and affects of an exorcist are discussed by all three.

Specifications:

This disc comes fully loaded with a rather engaging making of featurette that delves into the backstory of the film and shows clips from Stamm’s first mockumentary about Suicide. The supplemental material also features some effective audition reels from its actors. The footage is important as it was the characters that got this film its financial backing. There is also an interesting supplemental about exorcisms in general that comes with a warning and its own prayer, in case you should start to feel a little too scared.

The breakdown is as follows:

  • The Devil You Know: The Making of 'The Last Exorcism' (20 min)
  • Real Stories of Exorcism: Interviews with Actual Victims and Participants (14 min)
  • Actors' Audition Footage
    • Patrick Fabian (9 min)
    • Ashley Bell (2 min)
    • Caleb Landry Jones (2 min)
    • Louis Herthum (2 min)
  • Prayer of Protection
  • Lionsgate Trailers
  • BD Touch
  • "LG" Live

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