Sleight show

DEMONIC POSSESSION GOES the shaky, hand-held camera route in The Last Exorcism, a backwoods psychological thriller delivered faux-documentary-style, with mixed results. Call it the Linda Blair Witch Project.

The setup — in which a slick con artist of a preacher stages a routine exorcism on a seemingly possessed teen girl with camera in tow, only to get more than he bargained for — proves unsettlingly engrossing for the most part, until its forced finale proves to be a major mood killer. Up to that point, the committed cast of non-name actors lends this low-budget Eli Roth production the necessary aura of naturalism required to keep the viewer involved.

Of course, the extent of that viewer involvement remains to be seen. Even though the marketplace hasn’t exactly been crawling with genre fare, the PG-13 Exorcism doesn’t really deliver the sort of intense late-summer kick that its young male demographic tends to embrace. The Lionsgate release opens on Friday.

Although the name Marjoe is unlikely to mean much to the film’s target audience, it’s evident that writers Andrew Gurland and Huck Botko have turned to the 1972 documentary about the evangelical showman as inspiration for its portrait of preacher Cotton Marcus (smoothly played by Patrick Fabian).

Having performed fake exorcisms since he was a child, the clean-cut family man, undergoing an apparent crisis of conscience, is planning to cop to the 25-year charade by letting a documentary crew in on all the tricks of his trade. But soon after they show up at the rural Louisiana home of a strict fundamentalist farmer (Louis Herthum), it becomes readily apparent that his tormented, wide-eyed teen daughter (an impressive Ashley Bell) is going to require much more than just sideshow sleight of hand.

Director Daniel Stamm (A Necessary Death) maintains a nice, slowly tightening grip on the chilly atmospherics, even as the film continually trips over some truly clunky exposition, yielding more than one unintended snicker in the process. The sturdy performances go a long way to make up for those awkward moments, until it all goes to hell with a terse “shocker” ending that recalls another from a film that shall remain nameless so as not to rankle the spoiler-alert police.

The cost-effective production values rely on old-school chills over effects-laced, visceral thrills, with much of the heavy lifting done by Zoltan Honti’s jittery camera and Nathan Barr’s rumbling orchestration.

Movie review

Film: The Last


Director: Daniel Stamm

Cast: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Louis Herthum

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