A word or several first on the film itself, I find it difficult to recommend The Last Exorcist despite thoroughly enjoying the majority of the movie. The acting is competent and in the case of the lead, surprisingly excellent. The direction is quietly expressive, the plot appears to be a fresh take on a tired genre and there are both scares and an unsettling creepy atmosphere throughout.
In the light of the above, it may seem that the movie should be recommended on that basis alone, surely a weak final act can't wipe out the positives completely? Watching a movie is undoubtedly about the experience of the journey, not just the culmination of the plot?
|Sadly, the high-point of the film before it jumps the shark|
On Final Act Twists
A superb example of a misused twist ending was the original ending of Clerks, the debut film by Kevin Smith. A talky, lazily smart look at slacker culture, the abrupt shooting of the protagonist before a fade-to-black would have soured the taste of an otherwise superb movie without serving any deeper purpose. Thankfully, it was reshot and lives only as a humorous story amongst many others in Kevin Smith's podcasts and DVD's.
The final act of The Last Exorcism serve no purpose beyond a desire to move the film in a different direction. The cult comes out of the blue, with only a throwaway line at the beginning providing meager and insufficient context. No deeper themes or motifs tie in with the twist. It sheds no light on motivations of any characters in earlier acts.
Worse of all, unlike Fight Club where the twist rewards repeat watchings by neatly tying up dangling scenes and providing emotional and logical context, The Last Exorcism suffers horribly by making absolutely no sense when rewatched in the context of the final act.
Basic questions are left unanswered, not least, what the hell was going on? A cult was worshiping... the devil? A demon? Was the Nell possessed by the entity or simply carrying it's child? Was she aware?
Why the need for the whole possessed act? If we accept that the father wrote to the Reverend for an exorcism out of desperation and ignorance, and Caleb reacted in a hostile manner because he was a member of the cult, why did the girl play up being possessed at all? If the intention was to get rid of the three interlopers, which is made pretty clear by the pretense that it was all repressed guilt over a dalliance with a local boy, why follow the crew to the hotel room and keep them there when they were about to leave with the father satisfied that the demon had been exorcised? If the intention was to keep the crew around to murder them, as suggested by the drawing of their dead bodies, why attempt to mollify them and send them away hours before the birth of the demon/devil/unknown child? If Nell is trying to fight against her 'possession', if she is possessed which is left completely unclear, why does she appear to reassure them while normal and stalk them while possessed?
Why does Nell stab her brother in the mouth? Who is the male voice she is talking to when locked alone in her room? Do the cult want the crew to be sacrificed? Do they want them to leave?
What the fuck is going on?
The Last Exorcist took a superb basic premise, above-average performances and a good marriage between scene-to-scene unpredictability and tension and threw all away in pursuit of... something.
They truly managed to salvage a nonsensical poor movie out of the brink of what could have been anything between a respectable interesting take on a faux-docu exorcist movie to modern horror classic.