It’s one thing to have a giant monster rampaging through New York while a small group of civilians films the whole ordeal. It’s another to pass something like this off as “authentic.” The Last Exorcism is the type of movie Hollywood adores, much like TV networks love reality programs. They don’t cost much, need only a small crew, and the scripts write themselves. Oh, and the viewer can buy right into this schlock, leading to massive profits.
Last Exorcism just prays on people’s fears and beliefs, taking advantage of gullible citizens without even deciding what it believes. The audience is thrown for a loop as Nell (Ashley Bell) is seemingly possessed by a demon of sorts, only to be confused again as her father becomes increasing agitated and protective. Is it a mental apparition or a spiritual one?
The movie takes a familiar road, the girl bending and twisting like some circus act, although never climbing the walls as the box art insinuates. Apparently that would have required a high effects budget, and these things are all about massive profits, not the art. The actors are convincing, probably the first step towards creating one of the “lost footage” movies which lost their charm a while ago. This little sub-genre ran its course with Blair Witch and Cloverfield, the ensuing knock-offs from both indie and major studios nothing more than frustrating.
In its attempt to be real, it is fascinating that it still doesn’t even come close to the brilliance of fiction. Going up against a masterpiece like The Exorcist only further proves what a cheap sham this whole thing is, the script not intelligent enough and the visuals unimpressive.
To solidify the film’s purpose as a revenue stream is the PG-13 rating, avoiding any graphic gore or salty language that could, you know, add actual atmosphere. It’s more important to keep the teens coming in, the inexperienced movie goer who probably could be scared by this stuff simply because they don’t know any better. Last Exorcism is familiar tripe wrapped up in what they (the producers) want you to believe is fresh packaging. Smart move financially, not so much entertainment wise.
Keeping costs down, Last Exorcism was shot digitally, although with what camera is unknown. What matters is the end result, and that’s just decent. Lionsgate offers up an AVC encode that is sufficient for the bland material, desaturated colors, meager blacks, and heavy noise all included.
That’s not to say there’s nothing positive. The camera type makes for a clear, sharp picture in daylight. The source still leads to unnatural skin types that look a little plastic, while the texture is still visible giving them some life. As the movie drags on, people begin sweating profusely over the false tension, individual droplets defined even in the meager lighting conditions and increasingly heavy low light noise.
There are few exteriors for this transfer to handle, the farmland this one takes place on generally presented with rapid motion. It’s impossible to grasp whether or not there is precise, clean definition. Most of the time, this one is focused on the actors. There is no artifacting to take note of, the constantly swaying camera producing no visible problems, a testament to the adequacy of this AVC encode.
Black levels are sort of “there” and not much else, never reproduced deep enough to offer dimensionality, and never bright enough to salvage some shadow detail. They’re a bit murky, no surprise given the digital source. Flesh tones will take on the hue of the lighting around them, either pale in the natural light outdoors or warm inside the home. This one looks representative of a rather ugly source.
It takes a long time for this DTS-HD effort to get kick-started, much of the film nonsensical rambling as everyone discusses Nell’s condition. There’s not much in terms of ambiance, and the interior of the churches early as the preacher riles up the audience is somewhat bland.
As Nell becomes increasingly infected by this demon, it makes its presence felt by some light rumbles in the low-end, generating a small jolt in the sub to add some atmosphere. There’s some great audio work as Nell knocks over objects on a second floor above the other main characters at 58-minutes, all of the surround channels utilized with precision and objects hitting the ground with a thud. The finale pops too, an increasing fire roaring up in each channel including the subwoofer, creating a moment of rich uncompressed audio that is noteworthy.
Despite the intent to make this believable, the sound is far more natural than the video, that aside from one scene where what sounds like rain hitting the roof of the barn at 1:06:19 is heavily muffled, not to mention distracting. The balance of it all is fine, and when active, there’s sufficient material to test both the highs and lows.
There are three commentaries here, the first with producers, Eli Roth, Eric Newman, and Tom Bliss. Track two hosts director Daniel Stam and his cast. The third has a title, called Witness to an Exorcism with a psychiatrist, minister, and supposed victim discussing the film. It’s a unique concept that deserves some credit.
A prayer is provided in text, supposedly necessary to watch Real Stories of Exorcism because it contains demonic voices while victims discuss their experiences. The Devil You Know is standard making-of material for 20-minutes. Four sections of audition footage, trailers, and LG-Live are left.