Last night I had the chance to watch The Last Exorcism with FGSG and some friends for the second time. The Last Exorcism was the first film we reviewed on this blog (more specifically, JennyD and Crow reviewed it, I saw it a bit later) and at the time I loved most of the movie, but there was one glaring problem. That damn ending. Those last five minutes, how I hated them. My partners at FGSG didn’t much love them either, and gave their respective thoughts in their reviews. This isn’t a full review, but it is admitting that maybe I wasn’t completely on target the first time around.
Sometimes, movies you hate should be left alone. But I learned from a wise movie expert years ago that sometimes when you really hate something, you need to give it one more chance, just in case you were missing something the first time around. I don’t mean for Asylum flicks or anything like that, I just mean movies that might actually turn out to be good. I experienced this with Polanski’s The Ninth Gate – I disliked it on initial viewing, and my expert friend requested I give it one more shot. I found I enjoyed it more the second time around, and even more so on the third time, fourth time, etc. Now it’s a movie I continue to enjoy and recommend to others. But this was more than dislike on Exorcism – I HATED that ending and how I felt it changed the film. It seemed jarring, over the top and brought in the dreaded CGI. But watching it again, I was completely surprised when I found myself liking the path of the movie and felt I understood the narrative thread that led to that ending. Seriously, no one was more shocked than me when I turned off the movie and realized I liked how the film subtly built up to a wild ending that took the exorcism movie in a different direction.
Since we’ve already covered the plot and such in the original reviews, I won’t bother with that here. What I will say is that the good remains good, especially when it comes to our main character. Patrick Fabian still delivers a kickass performance as Rev. Cotton Marcus, an evangelical minister who has a change of heart and decides to debunk his former faith “business” by allowing a documentary crew to film him at work. When he starts preaching a recipe for banana bread, I was hooked. His character arc from disillusioned, bitter preacher to a man rediscovering his faith in the worst circumstances is very compelling. His final scene (and final act of faith) is very powerful, and wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if we hadn’t been with him every step of the way. Even if other parts of the movie sucked, I think Fabian would still have kept your attention.
The rest of the cast also does a great job in their respective roles – I especially like Caleb, the conflicted and mysterious brother of possessed Nell, played by Caleb Landry Jones of X-Men: First Class. The documentary style footage also works well (even though it’s conveniently abandoned every once in a while), especially in a few late night encounters with Nell (Ashley Bell).
And now I can add the ending into the good. I don’t want to give too many spoilers, but I will say that although on first watch I found the ending jarring and too much of a change of tone – it turns suddenly from a possession film into something completely different. I couldn’t handle the change. Now, I think it’s more like the reveal of a mystery. The end is hinted at throughout the movie in subtle ways (and a few that are less subtle once you know the ending), so this time, I could watch and notice all the clues that told us this was no simple case of possession. And I love that you don’t see the fate of Cotton Marcus – you see where he’s heading and what he’s planning to do, and you know he’s probably going to die a horrible death, but you don’t know for sure. I really appreciate that the filmmaker allowed that to remain ambiguous. The fate of the documentary crew? Less ambiguous, but also okay. I’m not against a downbeat ending.
I really feel different about The Last Exorcism now that I’ve had the chance to sit down with it again. I encourage people who didn’t love it to give it another chance, and honest chance. Maybe you’ll still hate it, but maybe you’ll find there’s more to love than you originally thought.