When it comes to horror movies, there seems to be a recent resurgence in the devil/possession subgenre. It was a big one in the seventies, with box office hits like The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby and, of course, the mother of them all, The Exorcist. In recent years, there was two new Exorcist movies, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, House of the Devil, and now, The Last Exorcism.
And why not? With such a large percentage of Americans self-identifying as some denomination of Christian or another, there’s a good chance it’ll terrify the average American moviegoer. Well, having recently checked out House of the Devil and The Last Exorcism, I’m happy to say that the subgenre is working pretty well in the modern day.
Of course, in the case of House of the Devil, “modern day” is only technically correct. Ti West’s 2009 film is actually a throwback to the late ’70s/early ’80s style of horror filmmaking. Shot on 16mm film, using techniques reminicent of the time (zooms vs. dolly shots, etc.) the film really captures movies of the era, and it’s all for the best. There’s even a VHS version you can get from Amazon, which I think is pretty awesome (even though I don’t have my VCR hooked up anymore).
The movie follows our average 19-ish, semi-prude but cute heroine, as she looks to make some money for college. She gets a job babysitting, but it’s for SPOILERS a Satanic cult. Hey, look, sometimes Satanic cults want to go catch a movie, too, ok? I kid, but on paper, I guess it does look like a pretty goofy setup. Of course, there’s more to it, but I’d hate to ruin it.
While the movie is light on many traditional horror elements (low body count, no nudity), it’s a real slow burn. As with so many other great horror movies, you’re left waiting for something to happen, so much so that a character just knocking over a vase makes you jump. You know something deeply fucked up is going to happen, you just don’t know when or what, exactly, it will be.
Which brings me to The Last Exorcism. This movie does a great job with the subgenre by making you really question if the possessed is, in fact, possessed or if the possessed is just insane. The film is shot in the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, and follows a Reverend who is out to debunk exorcisms as bogus.
It’s hard to go too deep into it without spoiling the whole thing, but I will say this, it raises a lot of doubts as to who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy. A lot of doubts. I wasn’t really 100% sure what was going on until the last five minutes. And that’s a great thing. Being confused and displaced adds to the terror. Nothing is more horrifying than not knowing.
I’ll leave it to you to figure out who’s the real villian in The Last Exorcism, but I would definitely recommend seeing it. Not as highly as I recommend House of the Devil, but it’s a fine addition to the genre. It certainly has nine dollars worth of content.