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Posted: September 1, 2010 12:00 a.m.

Review: Last Exorcism livens up fall movie doldrums

August is B-movie month, where movie studios’ leftovers are rolled into the multiplexes, giving us rubbish like "Pirahna 3D," "Vampires Suck" and last week’s "The Switch." "The Last Exorcism" is no exception. What’s surprisingly different about this late summer horror flick is it actually tries to make you think.

"Exorcism" employs shaky-handheld technique to impose a faux documentary style made famous by "The Blair Witch Project" and "Paranormal Activity." Like its predecessors, it presents itself as "found footage," a gimmick that is quickly becoming a genre of its own, much like the "torture porn" genre that is the "Saw" series.

The film is made up of a cast of unknowns and in this case, it works well. While the actors in "Blair Witch" and "Paranormal" border on ham and cheese, the core players in "Exorcism" put on solid performances. Most notable are Patrick Fabian (who plays the scam exorcist the Rev. Cotton Marcus) and Ashley Bell (portraying the possessed victim Nell). These two are the film’s most rounded characters and they pull you in.

Fabian depicts Cotton as a man who spent his young life indoctrinated to believe God was working within him to heal others. Over the years, his faith diminished as he began to learn of the dark consequences that came with exorcisms; he believes the whole act is a sham, so he wants the documentary to expose its phoniness.

Cotton and his video crew travel to backwoods (where else would this sort of craziness occur) Louisiana to meet Nell, an innocent teen who is as impressionable as they come.

Cotton spends the bulk of the film trying to prove to her alcoholic father and the audience (and himself) that Nell just needs psychiatric help.

It’s typical to compare this to the quintessential exorcist movie (you know which one), but there is something deeper and more disturbing in between the lines. The film subtly explores the depths and cost of religious fundamentalism and superstition, that is, until the last five minutes, where the film devolves to justify its genre label.

I can’t say I was frightened in any part of the movie — its standard chills only distract from its truly scary subtext.

But regardless, that ambiguous ending will have you talking.

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