‘The Last Exorcism’: The Reviews Are In!

Critics praise the film's story and actors, but not everyone is impressed.

Not all of us on the MTV Movies team are horror fans. Some have admitted in public that knife-wielding maniacs and rivers of blood freak us out.

What a delight, then, to find [movie id="451734"]“The Last Exorcism.”[/movie] Though, honestly, there is nothing delightful about this low-budget flick, which delivers plenty of tense jolts and sweaty-palmed anticipation, forcing us scaredy-cats to hide our eyes. It’s just that “Last Exorcism” is such a delightful surprise.

The film is a character-driven drama tethered to everyday reality by its faux-documentary style. The disillusioned preacher, the frightened small-town teen — these are people to whom we can relate, for whom we can come to care. We’ll take this sort of horror flick any day over the torture porn of something like “Hostel” or the paint-by-numbers scares of so many ongoing franchises.

Not everyone agrees. The film has received largely positive reviews, but many dissenters remain. Still, “Last Exorcism” is expected to compete with the crime thriller “Takers” for the #1 spot at this weekend’s box office. Here is what the critics are saying about “Last Exorcism”:

The Story
“[The film is a] portrait of preacher Cotton Marcus (smoothly played by Patrick Fabian). Having performed fake exorcisms since he was a child, the clean-cut family man, undergoing an apparent crisis of conscience, is planning to cop to the 25-year charade by letting a documentary crew in on all the tricks of his trade. But soon after they show up at the rural Louisiana home of a strict fundamentalist farmer (Louis Herthum), it becomes readily apparent that his tormented, wide-eyed teen daughter (an impressive Ashley Bell) is going to require much more than just sideshow sleight of hand.” — Michael Rechtshaffen, The Hollywood Reporter

The Performances
“Both Fabian and Bell are outstanding. Yes, Marcus is kind of a creep, preying on the beliefs of others for his own gain. But Fabian makes him likable anyway, someone who’s willing to take us inside the game, even if it’s at his own expense. His character loves the camera, and it returns the feeling. Fabian makes him a show-off but not a boor. Bell is even better. How could a girl this sweet do the things for which she’s supposedly responsible? Is she really possessed? Is she disturbed? Sometimes a simple smile can more thoroughly creep you out than all the head-spinning and pea-soup puking in the world.” — Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic

The Scares
“The suspense is finely crafted. ‘The Last Exorcism’ doesn’t rely on cheap shock effects but locates scares in weird images — many of which cut deep because the camera is caught out of position, or isn’t in focus, or is far from the action. Director Daniel Stamm stimulates the imagination rather than shunt it aside: The horror genre is all about exercising restraint in the presence of the unrestrained.” — Kyle Smith, New York Post

The Dissenters
“The pieces are all there: Marcus’ desire to atone for decades of bamboozling, the utterly screwed-up Sweetzers, weighty questions about the costs of spiritual solace delivered cheaply or disingenuously. But despite mostly solid performances (particularly by Fabian, who quickly gets you rooting for the slick Marcus) and a satisfying, slow-building tension, things fly apart rather than come together. It’s like director Daniel Stamm and his crew realized they were treading awfully close to making a film with real depth and edge that horror audiences might hate, and they just couldn’t pull the trigger. This explains a final sequence that spectacularly squanders all the potentially stimulating material from the previous 86 minutes. There may once have been a good and a bad film fighting for the soul of ‘The Last Exorcism,’ but in its final moments, cinema’s dark forces triumph emphatically.” — Jesse Singal, The Boston Globe

The Final Word
“Possessed by suspense, talent, brains and a gothic sense of humor, ‘The Last Exorcism’ makes first-rate use of religious doubt and religious extremism to concoct a novel horror-thriller clever enough to seduce unbelievers while satisfying the bloodlust of its congregation/fanbase. While spasmodic handheld camerawork has become increasingly tiresome as a shock device-cum-convention, it’s deployed here with enormous restraint and skill by d.p. Zoltan Honti, and helmer Daniel Stamm knows when to trim the visual frills and stick to the demonic vs. the divine. Expect collection plates to fill up for the August 27 release, and to hear hosannas from Lionsgate.” — John Anderson, Variety

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