Monday 27 December 2010


I thought that the last major English-language exorcism-themed movie that I saw, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, was morally reprehensible. Created in the wake of cases where exorcism techniques contributed to the death of a minor, the movie claimed to present a dialogue between faith and doubt and wound up stacking the odds in favour of faith and tacitly condoning the emotional and physical abuse innocent, troubled people are subjected to in the name of faith.

So when I read about this, a film that portrays an evangelical minister who has had a crisis of faith and wishes to do one last exorcism in the company of a documentary film crew to expose the whole fraudulent process, I had high hopes. Even given that it was a horror film, there were so many ways the horror could play out without falling into the sanctimonious space occupied by the Emily Rose flick.

And for a while, that's what it seemed to be. When his disabled son is helped by doctors, he realises he is grateful to the doctors, not to god. He reads of an autistic child being killed during an exorcism, and this compounds his disillusionment. So far so good. The backwoods Louisiana farmer whose daughter is apparently possessed is a man of stern, almost insane faith, which provides an ironic contrast to the slick reverend, who is able to work the charismatic godman mojo on autopilot even after his crisis.

Then it turns out that the girl in question is more than just a little troubled, and the reverend's brand of exorcism-as-catharsis isn't enough to chase away her demons. Still, those demons are presented as purely psychological, and I have no issue with any of what is shown right up until the last 15 minutes of the film. That's when the film takes a sudden u-turn into schlock Hammer-style Horror, complete with Satanic cult, demon fetus and murderous cultists - all updated via Blair Witch-style shakeycam mockumentary cinematography.

Those last few minutes might serve up the requisite eleventh-hour big screen horror chills, but they also betray all the promise of the rest of the movie. So - the girl wasn't possessed, but the reverend was wrong and the devil still is real? Who wrote this script, the pope? Maybe this wasn't a loathsome apology for child abuse like 'Emily Rose', but 'The Last Exorcism' was a film that had a chance to stick to a skeptical, humanist viewpoint and still be a chilling film, and then threw it all away to hit a few all-too-familiar horror flick power chords.

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