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The Last Exorcism DVD Review

The Last Exorcism (2010) movie poster The Last Exorcism

Theatrical Release: August 27, 2010 / Running Time: 88 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Daniel Stamm / Writers: Huck Botko, Andrew Gurland

Cast: Patrick Fabian (Rev. Cotton Marcus), Ashley Bell (Nell Sweetzer), Iris Bahr (Iris Reisen), Louis Herthum (Louis Sweetzer), Caleb Landry Jones (Caleb Sweetzer), Tony Bentley (Pastor John Manley), John Wright, Jr. (Rev. John Marcus), Shanna Forrestall (Shanna Marcus), Justin Shafer (Justin Marcus), Carol Sutton (Shopkeeper), Victoria Patenaude (Motorist), John Wilmot (Spindly Man), Becky Fly (Becky Davis), Denise Lee (Nurse), Logan Craig Reed (Logan Winters), Sofia Hujabre (Cafe Manager), Adam Grimes (Daniel Moskowitz)

Buy The Last Exorcism from Amazon.com: DVD Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy


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).

Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) incorporates a card trick into a spirited sermon at his church. Cotton and company receive an unfriendly welcome from Sweetzer son Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones), who gives them directions to return home.

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.

Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) performs the titular exorcism, having let us in on the smoke and mirrors that go into it. With his certainty shaken in a stable, Cotton tries to make sense of the chained-up puzzle that is Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell).

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 DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (English)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Not Captioned or Subtitled
Release Date: January 4, 2011
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.95
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Combo ($39.99 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

While it's purporting to be a documentary and largely shot handheld, The Last Exorcism still looks pretty terrific in the DVD's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The picture is clean and sharp. By design, visuals are at times shaky and/or out-of-focus, but this is not something that watching makes you sick, at least not on a television set.

You don't expect much from the soundtrack of a homegrown documentary, but the Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix here doesn't limit itself much on that conceit. Jump-in-seat moments are punctuated by peaks in dynamics and more regular atmosphere is achieved in keen ambient sounds. Dramatically, the audio serves the film well.

Haunting victim Stephani remains obscured in the mildly dubious "Real Stories of Exorcism." Producer Eli Roth, who you might recognize as "The Bear Jew" from "Inglourious Basterds" discusses producing a horror film less gory than those he directs.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Bonus features begin with two audio commentaries on the film. The first gathers producers Eli Roth, Tom Bliss, and Eric Newman (who only stays for the first half).
Predictably, their discussion deals mostly with the business side of things: stretching the low budget with tax credits, arranging releases in foreign markets, aligning schedules to get the film made, and so on. They also interestingly touch upon other driving issues, such as the faith-based story, the difference between fake documentary and "found footage" movies, Roth's directing experiences, and the importance of Twitter tweets.

The second commentary enlists those more directly involved on the film: director Daniel Stamm and actors Ashley Bell, Patrick Fabian, and Louis Herthum. Somehow, their track is far less informative and engaging. They mostly just remember the circumstances of filming: locations, experiences, number of takes, appearances, etc. Though largely reserved, Bell talks a bit about her backbends (that's no special effect!). There are also some interesting notes about two changes needed to earn the PG-13 rating. Considering the unique nature of the film and the calling of actors, you wouldn't expect this to be the duller and more disposable commentary.

A rare text-based extra is found in a Protection Prayer, presented in English and Latin. Though no context is provided, a Google search reveals it's a Prayer to Saint Michael the archangel, which was part of the Catholic Mass from the 1880s through the 1960s and was recommended in the 1990s by Pope John Paul II. Why it's here is explained at the start of the next feature...

"Real Stories of Exorcism" (14:36) provides comments from haunting victims, theological professors, and psychologists about demons and possession. As a bonus feature on a horror movie posing as a documentary, some skepticism about the featurette's legitimacy is called for, but it is apparently (mostly) genuine and its interview subjects all check out.

"The Devil You Know: Making The Last Exorcism" (20:22) is a standard but satisfying making-of featurette, reflecting on the film's creation with cast and crew interviews, film clips, audition excerpts, and behind-the-scenes photos. It covers all the ground you'd want from casting to the fake documentary format and director Daniel Stamm's prior experience with it.

This Cannes Film Festival Teaser Trailer soon finds Ashley Bell more feral and foul-mouthed than she is in the movie itself. If you thought the cover art was disorienting, try making sense of this main menu shot overlaying a Nell clip over her backbend key art.

The extras conclude with a strange 2009 Cannes Film Festival Teaser Trailer (2:26), which sells the film's concept with shaky footage of Ashley Bell cursing and vomiting. This screen test of sorts is excerpted in the featurette and mentioned in the commentaries.

"Also from Lionsgate" plays the same reel of curiously dated trailers with which the DVD loads, promoting The Haunting in Connecticut, My Bloody Valentine 3D, An American Haunting, Cabin Fever (a red band one), and Fear Net.

Only a few extras from The Last Exorcism's Blu-ray disc are missing here: an audio commentary track featuring former exorcism participants, the cast's audition footage, the standard theatrical trailer, and some of the trademarked interactivity that most won't bother with (Lionsgate Live, BD Touch and Metamenu Remote).

The DVD's main menu offers a variation on the disorienting poster and cover art, with that animated scene cutting up and giving way to other short clips from the film.

The ordinary black Eco-Box keepcase is topped by a stylishly embossed and recycled-feeling cardboard slipcover.

Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) examines Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) to determine if she requires exorcism. As the title suggests, she does.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Last Exorcism doesn't soar as highly as some of its fellow low-budget mockumentary horror, but it does provide a memorable and moderately gripping experience, at least until its disappointing ending. Suspenseful and atmospheric, this movie might be more appreciated by those with no particular genre leanings. Horror buffs might not like the limited thrills, minimal blood, and unconventional approach. With its terrific feature presentation and sturdy supply of bonus features, Lionsgate's DVD is more than sufficient.

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Related Interview:
Read DVDizzy.com's interview with Patrick Fabian, the star of "The Last Exorcism"
Patrick Fabian, star of The Last Exorcism

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Reviewed January 5, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2010-11 Lionsgate, Strike, and Studio Canal. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.