The Last Exorcism Reflects a ‘Deeply Divided’ America

The latest horror film variation on insanity and the possessed, The Last Exorcism also aims to reflect a “deeply divided” America where people no longer listen to one another, producer Eli Roth says.

Neither a sequel nor a remake of William Friedkin’s unsurpassed 1973 classic The Exorcist, German director Daniel Stamm’s film opening on Friday in US theaters follows in the footsteps of the Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) in Louisiana.

A charismatic and cunning preacher, Marcus doesn’t believe one bit in the devil but has no scruples “exorcising” those who think they are possessed, so long as he gets a thick wad of greenbacks in exchange.

His conscience finally catches up with him and Marcus is about to hang up his robe when he decides to first perform the ultimate exorcism before the cameras of a team of documentarians.

What he discovers in treating Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) will shake his very notions of good and evil.

Roles here are reversed: the preacher is a staunch backer of science and medicine, recommending that Nell undergo psychotherapy, while her father is persuaded that the devil is behind his daughter’s incomprehensible behaviour.

“The father and the reverend, all they want to do is help the child. But it’s their inability to see the other’s point of view at all, to even one tiny degree, that ultimately provokes everybody’s downfall,” Roth said.

“Each side becomes so unwilling to listen to what the others have to say, so completely convinced that they are correct. It’s all about yelling as loud as they can, just to speak over the other person.”

The producer of Stamm’s film sees a parallel between the father-reverend relationship and the highly polarized field of US politics and the “gridlock” between Democrats and Republicans.

“America is a deeply divided country. On one side, the people are very, very religious; on the other side, they just believe in science,” said Roth.

“The film is about the clash between science and religion, and neither side being able to see the other’s point of view, not to one degree.”

Roth, a member of director Quentin Tarantino’s inner circle, says people are turning toward religion now more than ever before in recent memory, and exorcism is making a comeback.

“I think that 75 years ago there was a real face of evil. It was Hitler,” he added.

“Today, there is no face. Evil is multi-faced. It’s not only in terrorism; it’s in corporate greed; it’s in government corruption.”

The director of horror films Cabin Fever (2002), Hostel (2005) and Hostel: Part II (2007) says the genre is popular because “it’s the last bastion in our society, where we are allowed to be terrified.”

“We are not allowed to be scared by our job. But we have fears… And there is nowhere to release these fears,” he explained.

“So when you go to a scary movie and you scream, you’re allowed to express all this fear in a very healthy way. It’s a way to be terrified, without feeling any shame about it.”

The Last Exorcism does not rely on special effects or blood to instil fear in its viewers, using instead a mockumentary format, made popular in recent years by films like The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity and Rec.

The idea is to make horror all the more real by bringing it closer to home.

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