You know when you hear someone speak up — maybe one of your friends — who doesn’t often share their opinion? The occurrence commands your attention. You turn up your ears, regardless of whether you agree, and your anxiousness is only appeased upon hearing the seldom-spoken words.

The Last Exorcism

Lionsgate
At Quality 16 and Rave

What people who don’t talk much tend to do is — once they begin saying something you think is really interesting — just shrug, chuckle and say, “Oh, I don’t know,” or “Forget it,” and leave you disappointed. You thought you were going to get a small glimpse of insight out of a communicative avenue you’d long believed was closed for good, but, instead, you got the same old medley of unoriginal mumbling.

“The Last Exorcism” feels like this shy friend of yours, but it’s a movie. It’s an exorcism/demon flick, so don’t expect much meaning to come of it, but it begins with an incredibly intriguing premise for what was supposed to be just another scary movie.

It starts out detailing the life of a preacher who has fallen out of love with God and fakes exorcisms for paying saps (or faithful customers). His past and the way he grew up, emulating his dad (who was also a preacher) is a much more interesting plotline than what the movie actually turns into: a rather standard horror film about a demon child.

The preacher’s skepticism about the existence of demons (and God) in the first place is really the only part of this movie that drives the plot and our interest in his character. It’s paradoxical and intriguing when a preacher loses his faith. That’s a character working out some demons of his own, which are worth exploring. That’s a character worth developing as a means of cluing us in to our own spiritual doubts. Maybe the resolution of who this man is could end up standing as an allegory for how some say we’ve lost touch with God as a society.

But no. Once “The Last Exorcism” raises its hand and starts saying something unexpectedly cool it gets a little deeper into its story and then basically throws up its hands, saying, “Oh, I don’t know,” and we then proceed with 45 more minutes of “Blair Witch”-style demon movie.

Once the film abandons its fascinating opening, it essentially turns into a run-of-the-mill, “Don’t go in there!” horror flick. Instead of the director and writers creatively winking at you, they just had something in their eyes.

While it will make audiences shriek and cover their faces — as any scary movie should — it won’t make you use much of your brain, which is sad, because it almost feels like the filmmakers give up on the plot at the same time you do.

This resignation of the duties of storytelling actually has parallels within the movie, shot as a faux-documentary with a handheld camera. At one point the documentarian’s camera is snatched up by the demon-possessed girl herself, and we see a segment of the film from her perspective. While innovative, and more chilling than any other part of the movie, the demon taking the camera ultimately sums up the way you’ll feel once the final credits roll, and you leave the theater.

It’s like they had a really good idea for a movie no one had ever seen before, but halfway through some demon possessed them to let their desire for spooks and ominous foreshadowing take over.

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