Since Linda Blair’s head spinning antics in 1973’s ‘The Exorcist’ there have been countless devil possession films. Some have been ok while others have been truly appalling. A problem has usually been there isn’t much ground to cover – person is possessed, priest arrives, dispels demon, the end. The Last Exorcism adds a new wrinkle by utilising the recent horror trend of making a faux documentary out of its terror. Working admirably it seemingly manages to finally banish Lucifer’s spell over clunky exorcism movies.
Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) is a preacher losing his faith. Spending years dispelling demons from troubled souls, it has all but deserted him. When a Southern farmer tells him he thinks his daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) is possessed, Cotton sees this as his last chance for religious salvation. Inviting a documentary crew to film what he hopes is his last exorcism, little does he know of the horror he will endure as he goes one on one with Satan’s latest unwilling disciple.
Who would have thought in this age of zero scares and surprises in horror films that one would have both? That The Last Exorcism works is due to the very device it copies from recent movies. Taking its riff from the Paranormal Activity/Blair Witch Project video-filmed shockers it conjures its own genuinely creepy atmosphere those efforts sorely lacked. From the first shot there’s a sense of foreboding doom as the Reverend’s shattered belief system is tested by the deceptive conduct of those around him.
The nature of evil is intriguingly played out as the origin of Nell’s dark decent is disturbingly revealed. These elements are superbly conveyed by a great cast bringing authenticity to their actions. Director Daniel Stamm certainly knows how to tease out the dramatic dread with skill with his refusal to descend proceedings into a lazy gore-fest most welcome. His nod to other hits such as Halloween and The Omen are a nice touch for fans who’ve endured many woeful similar efforts to reach this far.
The Last Exorcism is a rare superior effort in a market clotted with insipid horror films. Effective until its shocking final reel, its creative twist on the exorcism mythology shows its film-makers may finally found a genre cure against their own cinematic Princes of Darkness.
Rating out of 10: 7
It’s always exciting when a new director enters the scene. The promise of fresh talent free of studio interference and a fearless approach makes for a potentially intriguing combination. Monsters reinforces this with first time director Gareth Edwards mixing many genre staples in an unusual blend. Those expecting the typical ‘alien vs. man’ battle-fest would probably be the only disappointed viewers in his essay on humanity’s predilection for finding violent answers against unknown questions.
Asked to escort his employer’s daughter Samantha (Whitney Able) back from Mexico to the U.S., photographer Andrew (Scoot McNairy) seizes a chance. Hearing of an extra-terrestrial breeding ground near the American border, he aims to capture a shot that will result in a huge pay-day. As they travel toward the site where the aliens live, they become disturbed by the actions of an army doing anything to contain the area. Witnessing the struggle between humans and aliens, they are forced to question which side needs protection.
Sparse with his dialogue and letting imagery tell the tale, Edwards knows what motivates a good sci-fi story. One only has to look closely under the surface of most films in the genre to find they have actually been about something. In this case Monsters looks at the American views on immigrants and how they’re dealt. As the aliens are the ultimate outsiders their consumption of Earth’s resources to survive is seen as an aggressive act by a military only too keen to destroy any supposed threat to human life.
It’s fascinating how recent efforts have shown Americans to be far more harmful than other-worldly creatures. Maybe it’s a sign of how far sci-fi films have come from the 1950’s where they were portrayed as saviours against outside forces. That doesn’t mean Monsters is an anti-American film although it asks the audience why brute force is always used in dealing with huge issues. With the strong story and natural acting by the leads it all adds to a very fine first calling card for Edwards who creates strong tension and an odd romanticism within his morality tale.
Full marks to Monsters for daring to be different as those involved utilise their creative freedom to its maximum. Hopefully they still have this with their second feature as – by going on Monsters’ strong evidence – they will have a solid professional career ahead.
Rating out of 10: 7