What starts off as a solid mock docu-horror ends in an abrupt rip-off mess – almost as though the film itself became possessed by the demon of shitty horror films. One can see the exact moment where the filmmakers thought “how am I going to end this?”. It’s a real shame because up until the last 10 minutes, the movie is actually an enjoyable and effective little exorcism movie.
The film is shot documentary style by a camera crew who are invited along to film the last exorcism to be performed by evangelical pastor Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian). Cotton has been performing fake exorcisms for years, but he’s not a bad person. He’s a realist but genuinely believes that he is helping people by convincing them that they are on longer possessed. After reading about a young boy who died during an exorcism, Cotton decides that he wants to show the world that exorcisms are not real. Cotton is a great screen presence and immediately draws us in. He is an involving and likeable character whose charisma and fake tactics are intriguing and amusing.
For his last exorcism, he chooses the Sweetzer family who live on a farm in the backwoods of Louisiana. The father believes that his sixteen-year-old daughter, Nell (Ashley Bell) is possessed and has been killing his livestock. Soon it becomes apparent that Cotton’s fake tactics are not going to work for this particular case. We slowly uncover Nell’s creepy, isolated world and are never quite sure if it is her father or a demon who is sucking the life out of her.
The filmmakers wanted to present the film as neutral as possible so that the audience could view the film as either supernatural or psychological. For this reason, there is very little gore and no makeup was used on the actors. Nell’s contorted body is all due to Bell’s ballet experience and double-jointed body. This tactic works well, as the audience is left guessing based on their personal beliefs and there are enough effective jumps and jolts to shake us either way.
As the film winds down, the story starts to take an interesting psychological approach by suggesting that Nell is really a victim of incest or rape, but before we can even begin to digest this explanation, we are thrown another twist. The story starts to unravel quickly, as though the filmmakers could not decide what side they believe. A scene right out of Rosemary’s Baby is tacked on to the end in an attempt to explain everything with a big, burning satanic ritual, with Nell popping out a big demon baby and Cotton wandering around holding a cross. Before we can even begin to figure out when Nell was pregnant and what happened to Cotton, the film cuts to the end of The Blair Witch Project. It was as though the filmmakers decided that it was just better to run away from the whole mess they had made. The camera crew is quickly killed off by Nell’s creepy brother who suddenly reappears, and…someone else….the Blair Witch? Satanic townsfolk? Maybe they just tripped?
END OF SPOILERS
Rumours of multiple endings shot after early test screenings indicate that the filmmakers panicked, wavering too much between the supernatural versus the psychological explanation. Perhaps it is for this reason that one leaves feeling so violated by the ending, as though we are being punished along with Cotton – only Cotton is being punished for questioning his faith, while the audience is punished for having faith in the movie.