The Blair Witch Project (1999) was a heavy stone thrown into calm waters, and ever since this event the ripples on the surface have steadily increased. In a single stroke The Blair Witch Project validated the internet as a source of promotion, and legitimised the faux documentary form within the terms of genre filmmaking as commercially viable. It did all the things that the far superior The Last Broadcast (1998) did not. Although The Last Broadcast failed to reach a large audience, it remains for me the most creatively successful mock-documentary made. The so called ‘mockumentary’ has almost become a genre in its own right. I say almost because it still relies heavily on the tropes of pre-existing genres, a reliance that totally undermines any documented fake reality the filmmakers are attempting to conjure up. These films should be able to address questions of reality in a more philosophical manner, but it is their attitude to reality which ultimately makes them little more than hollow exercises in style. In these films reality itself becomes a stylistic choice, and when all is said and done, reality is used merely as a device to create more scares. There is of course a far more pragmatic reason for the sudden upsurge in these type of films; the availability and cheapness of technology means they are dirt cheap to produce. But it seems that gone are the days when inspirational filmmakers could turn a low budget into an opportunity too find different ways of producing interesting results.
Unimaginative and derivative minds are slowly traversing their way through every sub-genre in the book. Witchcraft and the supernatural in The Blair Witch Project, the monster movie in Cloverfield (2008), zombies in Diary of the Dead (2007), and [REC] (2007) poltergeists in Paranormal Activity (2007), and alien visitations in The Fourth Kind (2009) and with the inevitable imbecility of bereft imaginations we have demonic possession in The Last Exorcism. The starting point for this painful waste of celluloid is not The Exorcist (1973 - which is another waste of celluloid) but the mild distractions of The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005). In its favour this film has a more restrained attitude to creating verisimilitude and actually works very well. To give The Last Exorcism its due, it does start out promisingly. In the early moments we are introduced to the evangelical minister Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), he is a showman and a performer, a carnival huckster who placed his faith in the medics who saved his son rather than god. He is a charlatan who cynically uses his oratorical gifts to keep his family solvent. Fabian is excellent as Marcus and is without a doubt the best thing about this film. He oozes charm and charisma, and radiates an arrogant self-assuredness which soon becomes strained by inexplicable events in New Orleans.
© Shaun Anderson 2011