The Last Exorcism

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When you have the delightfully humble, up-and-coming American actress Ashley Bell (pictured top left) on the phone attempting her best ‘You’re terrible Muriel’ impression from the 1994 hit ‘Muriel’s Wedding’, it’s difficult to believe that mere months ago she was contorting, convulsing and playing mean with the devil, auditioning for her next film ‘The Last Exorcism’.

Following a deceitful evangelical minister, the film reveals the tumultuous events that arise as a result of the minister feeling a need to reveal his fraudulent actions in his final exorcism, which he agrees to be filmed by a documentary crew. Bell plays the sheltered and conservative Nell Sweetzer, a role which was physically demanding from the get-go.

“For both the audition and the call-back, I was exorcised. They were summoning this demon out of me and I was lying down on the carpet in West Hollywood with this man above me. I was convulsing and just thinking that my parents would be so proud of me,” jokes the actress.

Patrick Fabian plays the charismatic role of Cotton Marcus, the troubled evangelical minister living a lie by pretending to cure supposed victims of possession. Says Fabian, “What my character has been doing is mostly a sham, and so he feels the need to come clean. I invite a film crew to witness what I do and how I do it in order to expose the lies I’ve been perpetuating.”
Directed by Daniel Stamm, the film is shot primarily in pseudo-documentary format, effectively utilising hand-held devices to capture a disjointed, raw intensity. But before you sigh and say you’ve seen it all before, the documentary film style of ‘The Last Exorcism’ is used with tact, intelligence and creativity, enhancing the story and allowing the actors to tell the tale, not merely the camera device. It’s far more impressive than any ‘Paranormal Activity’ or ‘Blair Witch Project’.

“‘The Last Exorcism’ makes the audience feel extremely vulnerable,” tells Bell. “You’re following this reverend and when he begins to doubt his façade, and to crack, the audience too begins to feel vulnerable and exposed. It has so many turns, it’s very scary. And it’s such a different breed of horror film.”

Tackling the contentious debate surrounding religious fundamentalism and demonism, it’s impossible not to ask both Bell and Fabian’s views on the always topical subject. Says Bell, “I read everything I could possibly get my hands on, I listened to everything, I talked to a lot of people. I also went to a lot of Baptist Churches in the deep valley. When I started, I doubted that possession could be real. I started listening to tapes of actual exorcisms and watching things, and then a voice would come out that is neither female, male, human or even animal and you don’t know what it is. You get goose-bumps. I think I believe more now than what I did going into it. It [the film] borders on the power of suggestion as opposed to actual possession. It’s a tricky, tricky subject but what I’ve read certainly makes me question everything a little more.”

Fabian feels similarly: “I definitely believe evil exists; I feel I’ve been in its presence. Too many stories have been documented throughout history to chalk them all up to mental illness or complete fabrication. I think people absolutely can be ‘overcome’ with emotion and energy, but to say that someone can actually be ‘possessed’ by the devil, well, now you venture into whether or not there is a devil and I’m not sure I can say there is; at least not in the horns-on-the-head kind of way.”

Industry magazine, ‘Variety’ praises ‘The Last Exorcism’ for going against the grain of standard exorcist films, an instruction that was given to Bell from the outset. “Daniel [Stamm] actually said, ‘Watch every exorcist film and then don’t do that!’ And whilst we may love or flinch at the trashy or terrifying scenes of revolving heads and projectile vomit that have become so notorious in exorcist flicks, one thing is certain: ‘The Last Exorcism’ isn’t your average horror film, though both Bell and Fabian are huge fans of the classic genre.

Says Fabian on a final note: “Nothing was better than staying up late and getting creeped out, goose-fleshed and outright scared by horror films growing up, and even now, for that matter. My biggest thrill would be knowing that ‘The Last Exorcism’ made a few teenage guys lose their cool and freaked them out.”

The Last Exorcism’ is due for international cinematic release on August 27.