The Last Exorcism 1 & 2
The Last Exorcism (January 5/11)
The latest in an increasingly long line of fake horror documentaries, The Last Exorcism follows a faithless preacher (Patrick Fabian's Cotton Marcus) as he and a camera crew head to Baton Rouge to perform a fake exorcism on a girl (Ashley Bell's Nell Sweetzer) supposedly possessed by a vicious demon. There's little doubt that The Last Exorcism ultimately fares a whole lot better in its first half than in its second, as director Daniel Stamm, working from Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland's screenplay, does a superb job of establishing the central character and his rationale for performing the doomed exorcism. The lighthearted nature of the movie's opening half hour - ie Cotton impressively sneaks his grandmother's banana bread recipe into a sermon - paves the way for a comparatively low-key and uneventful midsection that's not quite as enthralling as one might've hoped, yet the less-than-compelling atmosphere is alleviated by a progressive emphasis on images and sequences of a decidedly disturbing variety (ie Nell stands motionless in a dark hallway). Stamm's decision to hold off on divulging whether or not Nell is genuinely possessed or just mentally unbalanced is initially somewhat interesting, although it's finally clear that the delay in revealing the truth dampens the effectiveness of a few key interludes. By the time the over-the-top and unreasonably ludicrous finale rolls around, The Last Exorcism has firmly established itself as a sporadically intriguing yet hopelessly uneven horror effort that isn't quite able to live up to the promise of its above average set-up.
The Last Exorcism: Part II
The Last Exorcism: Part II follows Ashley Bell's Nell Sweetzer as she attempts to move on with her life after the horrific events of the original film, with problems naturally ensuing as it becomes more and more clear that the demonic presence from part one isn't finished harassing the traumatized young woman. Filmmaker Ed Gass-Donnelly's decision to jettison the first-person perspective of The Last Exorcism is, at the outset, a welcome one, as The Last Exorcism: Part II initially comes off as an appealing drama revolving around Nell's efforts to get on with her life - with the movie boasting a deliberate pace that results in a vibe more akin to a character study than a horror flick. Bell's strong performance goes a long way towards perpetuating the movie's watchable vibe, although, perhaps inevitably, there does reach a point at which Gass-Donnelly's laid-back modus operandi becomes awfully difficult to stomach - with the movie's deliberately-paced and uneventful midsection testing the viewer's patience to an increasingly distressing degree. The rather disappointing nature of the climactic exorcism only perpetuates the movie's less-than-enthralling feel, which is too bad, really, given that the film closes with a promising yet all-too-brief apocalyptic, Carrie-like finale. It's ultimately clear that The Last Exorcism: Part II belongs alongside the horror genre's myriad of other needless sequels, with Gass-Donnelly's efforts to try something different here commendable yet, in the end, hopelessly ineffective.