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The Last Exorcism (2010) [VERIFIED]

Looking at box office numbers, a person might believe there is astronomical money to be made in cinema. Last year was the third in a row in which a film made over $400 million domestically and over $1 billion worldwide (two did the latter). And yet, the movies making that kind of money always cost more than your average film. 2010's three highest-grossing films in the US -- Toy Story 3, Alice in Wonderland, and Iron Man 2 -- each carried a production budget of $200 million. That is only the beginning of their costs and considerations, as marketing budgets keep escalating, ticket profits are shared with theaters, and the once lucrative destination of home video continues to see decline.A better indication of where money is being made may be to look at movies in terms of return on investment. On that basis, even a record-shattering giant like Avatar greatly pales next to little movies that made it really big. Movies like The Blair Witch Project, which grossed $140 M domestically and $248 M worldwide on a budget of $60,000. Or its recent descendant, Paranormal Activity, whose $108 M domestic and $193 M worldwide earnings followed just $15,000 of production costs. While not quite as formidable as those two case studies, The Last Exorcism is another film that earned back its small budget ($1.8 M) several times over ($41 M domestically, $65 M worldwide). Also like Blair Witch and Paranormal, Last Exorcism is a horror film posing as a documentary. The film centers on Baton Rouge's Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), a showy, respected preacher who, like his minister father, has performed many exorcisms over the years. Admitting he doesn't believe in demons and even has doubts over the existence of God, Cotton has taken a break from exorcisms. But wanting to expose the game for the dangerous, fraudulent thing it is, he agrees to field one final request. A two-person film crew tags along with the pastor to document the process and reveal its deceptions.The chosen request brings Cotton and the crew to Louisiana's farm country, where widowed father Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum) is convinced his home-schooled 16-year-old daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) is possessed by the Devil. Believing there are more logical reasons for the family's livestock being slaughtered at night, Nell's brother Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones) stands opposed to an exorcism and to the Sweetzers being filmed. Nevertheless, with the devout patriarch's concern trumping everything else, things proceed exactly as Cotton would like, with a variety of props (smoking cross) and illusions (shaking bed, bubbling water, demon sound effects) selling both Nell's potent possession and the Reverend's expulsion of her tormentor, Abalam.Just when it seems as though everything has gone exactly as planned, Cotton and his crew become eyewitness to Nell's erratic behavior. As they look for corporal and medical explanations for her outbursts, they are disturbed by the seemingly real horror they discover. I'm surprised that the faux documentary format hasn't been exploited to death yet. Its usage has been surprisingly sparse considering how it has heightened every horror movie I've seen it applied to, including Cloverfield, Quarantine, and the two aforementioned breakout word-of-mouth hits. The design significantly enhances The Last Exorcism, generating suspense and atmosphere while developing characters and story all in ways more tasteful and smoothly than a standard narrative film would allow. As is sometimes the case on these films, some logistical questions can arise due to visible editing and the occasional bit of score, but you are likely to be too engaged to notice or care.The title and premise are enough to make somewhat clear how things will play out here. And the film does flirt with gimmickry, with the rare, off-putting jump-in-your-seat moment. But it never loses its accessible outsider's point-of-view, the viewer very much feeling a part of the charming Cotton's confessional con. It's not tremendously scary and the PG-13 rating ensures gore fans will not be satisfied (even though this could have earned a thematic "R" or required an appeal a few years back). Still, The Last Exorcism remains distinctive and involving throughout, most stumbling at its end when its abrupt, revelatory conclusion feels tacked on and from a different, dumber movie altogether.Rather than competing with the holiday season blitz, Lionsgate makes The Last Exorcism one of 2011's first big titles, releasing it this week on DVD and in a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack. We look at the former here.

The Last Exorcism (2010)

The Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) is an evangelical showman, a crowd-pleasing preacher who's been performing since he was ten years old. His star turn is, of course, the exorcism, which he sees as his way of helping troubled people ease their minds by casting out demons in which he himself has no belief. For a hefty fee, of course.

But his conscience has finally got the better of him, and he's jacking in preaching after one last gig, an exorcism in Louisiana, to which he has invited a film crew to capture all the tricks of his trade and expose the ceremony for the charade he knows it to be.

Never mind the inherent titular redundancy: "The Last Exorcism Part II" is a generally effective sequel to the 2010 sleeper that injected at least a little new life into the heavily taxed found-footage-horror subgenre. That film found a preacher trying to disprove the reality of exorcisms by filming a fake one, only to be fatally caught up in an actual demonic visitation; this follow-up from a largely new creative team finds the original's central victim pursued to New Orleans by the same malevolent spirit. Pic scared up just $8 million at the B.O. March 1-3 in a sluggish weekend overall.

After a brief recap of prior events--all caught on video by the doomed camera crew, now dead along with the protag's family--the pic drops the found-footage pretense for a more conventional, omnipotent p.o.v, and production polish. The promisingly scary first scene has a couple (Boyana Balta, Judd Lormand) unpleasantly roused at home in the wee hours by an intruder who turns out to be none other than failed exorcism and coven-ritual subject Nell (Ashley Bell).


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