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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Last Exorcism

January 1st, 2011

The Last Exorcism - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy Combo Pack

Lionsgate has an incredible talent for finding and marketing inexpensive movies, creating mostly mid-level hits. There's a reason why they are one of the best mini-majors out there. One could argue they the best overall, as Fox Searchlight has major label support, while Summit without Twilight looks a lot like New Line without Lord of the Rings. One of their latest finds was The Last Exorcism, which cost less than $2 million to make, but earned more than $40 million theatrically. That's not a whole lot of money compared to most wide releases, so will those that discover it on the home market be in for a treat?

The Movie

The film is a mockumentary that follows a preacher, Cotton Marcus, who many years ago lost his faith. He continues preaching and performing exorcisms, using stage magic, to pay the bills. However, after hearing of a kid that died as the result of someone trying to perform an exorcism on him, and that the Pope is opening an exorcism school, he decides to expose exorcisms for the scam that they are. With a documentarian, Iris, he picks a letter at random and heads to Ivanwood, Louisiana. There he meets the Sweetzer family. The father, Louis, believes his daughter, Nell, is possessed by the devil. His son, Caleb, is less convinced.

Cotton performs his usual tricks, which includes some fine psychological manipulations. ('Are you nervous? This won't work if you're nervous.' 'Oh, you don't read Latin.' He's adapt at keeping his marks in their place so that they will go along with his scam.) And at the end of the day, his exorcism is a success, he's gets his cash, and all is good.

Of course, since this is a movie, that's just where the story starts.

It's also where unacceptable spoilers begin.

(Before I get to the review, why can't the skeptics ever win one of these? At this point, that would be the only true surprise twist a movie like this could have. Just once, I want my side to win.)

That personal pet peeve aside, how is the movie? It's actually quite effective both at building the tension, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at how spiritualist perform their cons. For the first part of the movie, we get a great look at a man who has lost his faith, but continued to do the job because it's the only thing he knows. He has some pat justifications, but for the most part, he's nothing more than a con artist. The early parts of the film are like the behind-the-scenes of a con. Since I love conman movies so much, it should come as no surprise that I really liked this part. Then the film transitioned into the, "More than he bargained for" stage of the story where we are slowly shown that it's all real. Again, pet peeve aside, this part of the movie is really effective and the tension is built in an organic way. There's not a lot of jump out of your seat scares, but it is so natural that it is better this way.

Then there's the ending.

In the end, the film gives up any real pretense of realism that it worked so hard to build, and that's a shame. There were some concessions in realism made previous to this, including a soundtrack, as well as some classic horror movie stupid decisions. (For instance, if you saw a girl chained up by her father, wouldn't you call the cops? Immediately?) But those were forgivable. The ending is less so. It's still a good movie, but with a better ending, it could have been a great movie.

The Extras

The extras on the DVD include two audio commentary tracks, the first with the trio of producers and the second with the director and actors. I liked the second one better, as it had more insight. There is also some crap about exorcisms and how they are real. There is a 20-minute making of featurette that is better than most, with the usual mix of behind-the-scenes and talking heads.

I don't have the Blu-ray to compare, but it apparently has a third audio commentary track and audition tapes. That's a pretty good selection of exclusives, even if none of them push the technology. I'm not sure how well it will shine on High Definition. Then again, it costs about 30% more and it comes with the DVD and a Digital Copy and it's hard to beat that price.

The Verdict

The Last Exorcism started out great, but was almost ruined by a terrible ending. Its still worth checking out, while the extras on the DVD and the Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy Combo Pack lift it to the purchase level with the latter being the better deal over the former.

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Filed under: Video Review, The Last Exorcism