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The Last Exorcism

John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

Ashley Bell, Patrick Fabian, Louis Herthum and Caleb Landry Jones star in "The Last Exorcism." The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience.
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." So says the haunted Prince of Denmark in the first act of Shakespeare's "Hamlet," and so the main character discovers in the middling fright fest "The Last Exorcism" (Lionsgate).

While the gore factor is kept comparatively low in director Daniel Stamm's Gothic outing, an ambiguous approach to faith and a dark occult atmosphere make this feature inappropriate for all but well-grounded and judicious adult viewers.

Preparing to perform the titular rite, as the film opens, is Baton Rouge-based evangelical minister and self-confessed charlatan Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian). Alarmed by news reports of a boy who was injured during an exorcism, Cotton has decided to abandon the practice, which he regards as nothing more than an opportunity to fleece over-credulous believers.

To publicize the trickery behind his supposed confrontations with Satan, Cotton has invited documentary filmmaker Iris Reisen (Iris Bahr) and her cameraman to tag along for his swan song as he responds to the anguished summons of fervent farmer Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum). The farmer fears that his 16-year-old daughter, Nell (Ashley Bell), is possessed.

Armed with elaborate special-effects gadgetry, including a crucifix that gives off smoke at the press of a button, Cotton arrives at the predictably spooky Sweetzer homestead and goes through the motions of liberating Nell's soul. But he gets more than he bargained for when the girl begins to show signs that she is indeed in the grip of something, or someone, supernatural.

Though shaky on the details -- as an evangelical, for instance, Cotton would be far more likely to make use of a plain cross than a crucifix in his staged efforts to send the devil packing -- the script by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland does toy cleverly with the modern presumption that all phenomena can be explained scientifically.

But the corrosive cynicism Cotton displays in the buildup to his encounter with Nell, which includes scornful references to an "exorcism academy" sponsored by the Vatican, will not sit well with Catholic audiences. And the diabolical doings of the movie's climax are not for the impressionable.

The film contains a complex treatment of religion, sacrilegious activity, some gruesome images, at least two uses of profanity, brief sexual talk and references to incest and homosexuality. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

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