The Last Exorcism is different than the crop of terrible modern day horror films that have become the norm. It has a different style and all together different story line. Completely shot as a movie within a movie it takes from the cinema verite style of documentary filmmaking. Shot with a single camera we follow a Reverend who has lost his faith and is a mere puppet for profit. He is known for his skills with exorcism, something he does not believe to actually exist finding most causes can be cured with modern day medical science. As a means to make money he performs exorcisms but it is also a way for him to do his part in putting an end to exorcism’s that are dangerous. This will be his final exorcism and he has agreed to have a documentary crew follow him. Every detail will be documented, from the staging of the exorcism to his communications with the family and the possessed individual. The Reverend, Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), and the crew travel to rural Louisiana. A family of three occupy the home; a father, teenage daughter, and teenage son. Their mother died of cancer years before. They are devout Christians and the father firmly believes his daughter is possessed. If it means killing her to release her from the demon he is prepared to perform the act. This is not a simple family and the Reverend and crew members soon discover this exorcism will be far from normal.
The only eye we have on the events that occur throughout the entire film is through the camera lens. There is no use of a third person narrative and therefore the film presents a strong foundation for realism. When the camera is ordered off by a character, it is turned off and the screen goes black. When the cameraman is at an off angle, walking, running, etc., the framing is unsteady. If something is happening where the cameraman is not present, it does not happen; there is only one line of action. As things get to be too scary and strange even for the filmmakers the cameraman speaks to the Reverend and gives his opinion on what they should do next. There is no pretending that the camera does not exist. This is a documentary. Even the lack of non-diegetic music makes it apparent. All we get are ambient noises. Pair those up with darkness and you need nothing else. You are as the character’s are, completely unaware of what lurks behind a door, in the woods, or what will happen when the light’s turn back on. The level of suspense the film builds inside of you during the second and third acts is almost too much to handle. You are inclined to cover your eyes but cannot for fear of missing an important revelation.
You want desperately for more light, more noise, anything to clue you in to what is going to happen. All of your senses awaken in an attempt to find answers. To solve the puzzle before the characters do so you can sit in peace for the rest of the film. This peaceful existence never happens because there are no answers it seems. At all times we are led to believe this is in fact not a possession but simply a girl with emotional problems, or no real problems at all. There is a constant battle in the film between faith and science, culminating into fabulous twists and turns at every step. There is no guessing what will happen next. You are one of the characters in this story and will know nothing until they do. Just when you think you have figured it all out. That you know the truth. The film spins you for a complete loop and the real horror of the story makes its way to the surface. Or better yet, to the eye of the camera. It is all of these elements that make this such a great horror film. As for the possessed, Nell (Ashley Bell), she is an unpredictable riddle. One moment a sweet and kind girl, the next dripping with blood. Her image will make an impression upon you, just as Damien did from The Omen (Richard Donner 1976).