Strenuous Exorcise 

You're not a very good document of evil if you can't scare up frights.

click to enlarge art35_film_exorcism_300.jpg

The latest movie to receive the “Blair Witch” treatment, “The Last Exorcism,” follows “Cloverfield” and “Paranormal Activity” to tell of a group of people armed with a camera and microphone that bears witness to an oh-my-God moment involving the supernatural.

This one makes unusual effort to develop character and plot, although it all turns out to be an elaborate ruse meant to conceal a shocking conclusion. Unfortunately it turns out to be more silly than scary. Evidently you can have character development or pure voyeurism, but both tend to cancel each other out. (They can still give you a monster headache, however, if filmed with a shaky enough camera.)

The movie within a movie is about the Rev. Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), a former child pastor and renowned exorcist in Louisiana who's decided to give up evangelism after he performs one last exorcism for a film crew so he can show them what kind of phony baloney it is. “Maybe I'll go into real estate,” he muses on the way to visit a rural farm where a widower (Louis Herthum) hopes to wrest his daughter (Ashley Bell) from the clutches of Satan's minions.

“Exorcism” generates many intentional jokes while Marcus demonstrates the tricks of his trade, including hidden fishing line to rattle wall photos and tiny electrodes to send shockwaves through his young patient. The movie jumps between footage of the minister running through his inventory and scenes of him using it, with much laughter as a result. By the end of the movie, you'll likely be compelled to wonder who edited it in such a humorous way.

It's impossible not to note the score, as well. Who put that in there? This whole faux fly-on-the-wall guerrilla horror filmmaking thing was a good gimmick while it lasted, and it sustains “The Last Exorcism” for a spell. But maybe it's time to take the good minister's advice and retire the tricks. The goal, after all, no matter how you make a scary movie, is to be scary, the one thing “Exorcism” has the most trouble with. (PG-13) 90 min.

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