The DVD Shelf
I saw this film when it first came to DVD but my main memory was of the over the top ending which took me out of the film. After seeing the sequel I decided to give first film another watch and this time I got a lot more enjoyment out of it second time around and could actually see the way the ending was being set up. I think I was more committed to the type of film this was initially pretending to be when I first saw it but now that I know it is a supernatural horror I can appreciate the way they mislead the audience.
This is done by use of a documentary style which is setting out to be an exposé of the fraudulent practices of exorcists or at least the practices of the main character, Evangelist preacher Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian). The documentary format does at least do the job of justifying the presence of the camera and the shaky cam. There’s only a guy with a camera and a sound recordist so there isn’t a big crew following him around.
Cotton was brought up by his evangelical preacher father to be a preacher from an early age to impress the flock with his showy style of noisy preaching and the novelty of his yourh. Part of the act is performing exorcisms which were fine while Cotton believed he may be doing good but when he read of child being horrifically killed during an exorcism he wants to expose it as the dangerous fraud he now thinks it is. He seems to have lost his faith and after this last exorcism he is quitting
He picks a letter at random from Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum), a farmer who is convinced his daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) is possessed by a demon. Louis is a widower trying to raise his two children Nell and Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones) while they are all still grieving over the death of Louis’ wife. Louis is a very religious man and is worried about the forces of evil getting to his children so he has taken Nell out of church and school. Caleb is openly hostile to presence of Cotton and the documentary crew but when he spots Cotton pulling off a stunt he seems more amused by the show.
Cotton goes through with his performance but lets the documentary team in on the tricks. It manages to impress Nell and Louis and Cotton leaves with crew. They are staying in nearby hotel but it is far enough away that when Nell turns up barefoot at Cotton’s door in some sort of delirious state they take her to the local hospital.
This event sees the focus of the film move to Nell. Cotton and the crew are genuinely worried about Nell. They see her problems stemming from the isolation being imposed by Louis and when they speak to local pastor he reinforces their fears. Cotton and the crew try to talk Louis into getting professional help for Nell but when she attacks Caleb it drives Louis to seek drastic action. Even worse for Cotton the idea for this action came from something he said during his con script to convince Louis that the exorcism was necessary.
This leads to final act where Cotton desperately tries another exorcism and the film takes its final twist into full on supernatural horror. I had missed all the clues about what the film was really up to so this seemed at odds with film I was enjoying – I’m just guessing here but basically I just didn’t get into the ending. In the second viewing I was watching out for the clues and they are pretty clear.
The film plays about with the idea that our outlook on the world depends on our beliefs about it, especially in the middle of the film where assumptions about Louis are based the belief that he’s wrong in how raises his daughter because he’s obviously an ignorant superstitious man. The film then smashes away the foundation of those assumptions in the final act and it manages to bring things to a horrific conclusion a bit better than most other found footage films. It isn’t the most original of stories and it has elements inspired some classics of the horror genre but the set-up was very well done and the main cast are all great.