Was this movie good?
No, it was monumentally awful.
Was it bad because it was unrealistic about the issue of exorcism?
Yes. The makers of this film apparently decided to forgo any type of research-- even the most fundamental basics-- regarding the practical, theological and scientific aspects of the rite of exorcism and the issue of demonic possession within the Catholic Church outside of the most common, superstitious, and base stereotypes. My five year old could have written this movie with exponentially more accuracy--it was as if they truly didn't have even the most remote interest in portraying mental health issues or demonic issues with any type of realism. Because of this, watching the movie is painfully.... confusing.
It is the mental equivalent of watching a movie intended to be about NFL football, but which takes place entirely in a swimming pool with an all female cast. It just makes no sense.
To be fair, There were moments in the film where I found myself nodding in agreement with one of the characters only to suddenly shake my head in disbelief--- wait, what did he just say??? Rewind.
For example, at one point in the film, Isabella is questioning the two rogue exorcists who are taking the course in exorcism alongside her. She asks: "But how do you KNOW when it's really demonic possession and not just mental illness?"
"You know," They reply in unison, with certainty. I did find myself nodding--- indeed, you just "know in your knower" as my old pastor used to say.
She asks again and they reply again in the same way, and I continued nodding along.
Moments later, from inside their apartment the priests are discussing the fine line between science and religion and their personal history with exorcism.
One of them says to her something along the lines of: "Along this journey, though, I feel like I've seen the Devil a lot more than I've seen God." I nodded again, able to relate to that feeling of "alone against evil" which people who participate in spiritual warfare often get.
But then the conversation shifts, and they begin to malign the Church, the Magesterium, the sacraments, and pretty much anything which a Catholic priest would use to get TO the very God they are woefully trying to reach. What??!!
Alright, so it wasn't realistic. But was it bad filmmaking?
From a purely film perspective, there was absolutely no cliché left untouched by this movie. Certainly, I will acknowledge that it is difficult to make a "new" exorcism movie. The Classic film The Exorcist covered the fundamentals, the Exorcism of Emily Rose covered the theological and practical aspects and introduced the mental health issue, and The Rite beautifully rounded them out and added intimacy with God and the ordinary activity of the devil which is so necessary for a healthy understanding of these issues.
To some degree, the ending notwithstanding, The Last Exorcism also contained elements that hadn't been explored and needed to be on the subject. But I admit , there isn't much left to work with from a visual and plotline standpoint. It would take creativity and effort--- two things sorely lacking from this production. I actually wonder if the filmmakers did this on purpose, to make a film which was as awful as humanly possible using every single horror-genre cliché.
Now, I'm very disappointed. So, before I go any further, let me give you the basic plot line according to the filmmakers.
Based on this synopsis, I thought to myself that this had some potential. Well, no.
In 1989, emergency responders received a 9-1-1 call from Maria Rossi (Crowley) confessing that she had brutally killed three people. 20 years later, her daughter Isabella (Andrade) seeks to understand the truth about what happened that night. She travels to the Centrino Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Italy where her mother has been locked away to determine if her mother is mentally ill or demonically possessed. When she recruits two young exorcists (Quarterman and Helmuth) to cure her mom using unconventional methods combining both science and religion, they come face-to-face with pure evil in the form of four powerful demons possessing Maria.
I hate to relate it to the Blair Witch Project, which I enjoyed at the time of it's release, because so many reviewers are doing that. But if we're going to be honest, I have to, because the Blair Witch Project certainly changed the standard for documentary-style films with on-camera confessions. One thing particular to THIS movie though was the amount of reality-show drama that frequently went on, there were moments where I literally just wanted to pass out valiums to each of the characters and put them in separate rooms just to get a break from the frantic whining.
Kind of like The Real World meets the Blair Witch Project meets a giant can of cheese whiz.
Beginning with Maria Rossi, the woman allegedly demonically possessed, there are inconsistencies and bizarre twists that show lack of forethought and a total lack of common sense on the part of the film editors/writers.
With the intersection of science and religion being an area which absolutely fascinates me, I was looking forward to finding relevant, or at least thought-provoking information in this film, and "buddies" in what appeared in the previews to be a set of parapsychologically-oriented priests with experience in exorcism . Indeed, the previews showed us these cool, young priests, diligently working to combine reason with faith for the good of all.
Instead the "science" was hilariously laughable..... I think the pinnacle was when the two "priests" are at work with the possessed mother whose heart rate and blood pressure begin to rise.
They suddenly stop and stare at the monitor very seriously, ceasing all activity. In the silence we hear: "wait a minute, I think we've got something here." Blinking lights abound, letting us know that she is..... experiencing a raised heart beat and high blood pressure. Surprise!
From a medical standpoint, the details of this film were beyond absurd. Everything from a doctor leaving a violent psych patient with a visitor alone in a room without any precautions to medicines which worked at the speed of light and restraints which were made of what amounted to be toilet paper. There was truly no limit to the stupidity exercised by supposed medical and mental health professionals in this film, which is irritating to me because for many people, the issue of taking diabolical possession seriously as a plausible cause for human difficulties revolves around the accuracy of the scientific method used when dealing with such people, as well as the attention to detail necessary for true scientific study. Any film which misrepresents the actual scientific attention to detail which MUST be paid when examining a patient for exorcism (for example, the Church usually requires a psychological examination before an exorcism is approved) does a HUGE disservice to the cause of truth and to those for whom science can not explain what they require for healing.
But of course, the issues that interest me most are the representations of possession itself, the explanations of Catholic belief, etc.
The opening assures us that the Vatican was in no way involved in the film, and that should be obvious to any Catholic watching considering the numerous fallacies portrayed in the film.... virtually everything was "off"--- explanations of theological concepts (such as what happens to unbaptised babies, or what it takes to be an exorcist) are totally false. Throughout the film, a great deal of emphasis is placed on the fact that certain men are "ordained exorcists." However, the men presented in such a way are vocally anti-magisterial and in direct disobedience to the Church, which is almost laughable, if it wasn't so sad.
So in a sense, I am thankful that the very first scene immediately made it very clear that this film really has nothing to do with the Vatican, with Catholicism, with the Rite of Exorcism, etc. It's comparable to watching an agnostic or atheist write a book about Catholic theology-- to the person who is educated in these issues, utter nonsense is being put forth as fact from beginning to end. In fact, it kind of reminds me of how so many protestant pastors teach their congregations about the Catholic faith, TOTALLY demonizing it without qualms, without once citing an actual Catholic doctrine or belief, only stating protestant hypotheses about what Catholics believe, all the while preaching from a Bible the Catholic Church gave them. This is just like that.
Another incredibly annoying aspect of the exorcisms themselves stems from the fact that there is absolutely no order--- apparently these rogue priests operate in total disarray-- incoherently shouting insults mixed with latin sentences, randomly flinging crosses and stoles about the room, periodically checking machines which do absolutely nothing, stopping to re-arrange cameras, and allowing anybody and everybody to be involved and present in the actual exorcism, despite the state of their souls or the possible danger to themselves. There is nothing methodical about it.
Contrary to what these filmmakers seem to think, the Rite of Exorcism is a RITE, with an order, a beginning, a middle, and an end. For a reason. Priest exorcists must prepare, sometimes for months if need be, and so do their assistants. The Rite itself has an order, and must be followed exactly according to the book. So what is presented as "exorcism" is in fact, not. What is presented as an "exorcist" is in fact.... not. And what's presented as extraordinary behavior of the possessed is in fact.... not.
At one point, the allegedly possessed mother leans in to whisper to the daughter that she "knows" (via preternatural knowledge) that the daughter has had an abortion. This is a common scenario during exorcism or conversation with possessed persons that has made me (and any other person who has ever assisted at an exorcism) very uncomfortable-- having one's hidden sins being exposed openly is never something anyone enjoys. Nevertheless, when the daughter later relates it to the rogue exorcists she is working with, it doesn't seem to phase them at all that this woman has had an abortion and might need healing, nor does it concern them in the slightest that her soul might need help, because only moments later she is assisting at an exorcism herself, nevermind the fact that should she become injured or killed she would, according to Catholic doctrine, have needed absolution in order to be forgiven for the mortal sin of murder.
Inconsistencies like those are rampant throughout, but the number one difficulty I faced while watching involved how little tiny kernels of truth were strewn haphazardly throughout the film at key points, so that eventually the viewer appears to see some sort of connection..... a connect-the-dots (connect the cuts? A clue from the film?) if you will. These shreds of "factual" information, to those familiar with these issues, or somewhat familiar, appear to confirm something very troubling: that the Vatican is concealing/ keeping it's ability to heal people from demonic possession and allowing them to suffer.
This idea, so completely far from the truth, is presented as factual, but also given so subtly throughout the film and in such imperceptibly small doses that a perfectly normal Catholic may actually walk out of the film beginning to ask himself those very questions.
The issue that seems most important here is that there is a very real "dialogue" at work within the Church regarding matters of exorcism and legitimate questions people have about changes in norms. There is also a very real issue---- which is being addressed, in the manner the church ALWAYS addresses issues.... with patience, prudence, and prayer.
Meanwhile, Hollywood is perfectly content throughout this movie to use the mysterious and wonderful facets of the Catholic religion that people are naturally drawn to while completely bashing it's heart-- the Church-- at every turn.
There's something profoundly wrong with that... and I don't think the terms "hypocritical" or "opportunist"even begins to describe it.
If, like me, you believe (you KNOW) that there are persons rotting away in dirty mental institutions, forgotten, who can receive very real, very needed help from a Catholic priest....then you owe it to those people to do what you can to make sure that the tightrope line between science and religion is frequently walked and explored. A movie like this has so much potential for good--- and instead embraces wholeheartedly everything sad and terrible about human nature... and filmmaking. Save your money.