Thursday, November 17, 2022

Double Demons

The Last Exorcism
and Lost Souls (2000)

Exorcism films have been a staple here at Movie Churches because they pretty reliably have clergy. The masterpiece of the genre is, of course, William Friedkin's The Exorcist, with noble, heroic priests willing to sacrifice their own lives to serve the tormented and afflicted. The priests in the second Exorcist sequel are also quite admirable, as is the priest in the courtroom drama The Exorcism of Emily Rose. But sometimes the clergy in these films…aren’t that great.

The clergy in today’s films remind me of the would-be exorcists in a very funny story found in the book of Acts. From chapter 19, verses 13 - 16: “Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, ‘In the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out!’ Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?’ Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.”

The charlatan exorcists in today’s double feature would have been grateful to come out as well as the seven sons of Sceva.

In 2010’s The Last Exorcism, it is made clear relatively early in the film that the "exorcist" is a phony. The Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) brings in a documentary film crew to record what he believes will be his final (bogus) exorcism. The film crew consists of two members: producer Iris Reisen (Iris Bahr) and cameraman Daniel Moskowitz (Adam Grimes).

We first see Rev. Marcus getting ready for church in Baton Rouge, LA, with his wife and son. He tells his son, “Get in the shower, we’re going to church.” At the church, Cotton's father (another Reverend Marcus) introduces him. Cotton tells how he was a child prodigy preacher. 

His wife Shanna (Shanna Forestall) tells the film crew, “He’s a showman. People aren’t bored when they come to church. He does local theater, does special effects, he entertains like nobody’s business.”

He uses magic tricks for sermon illustrations and often speaks spontaneously. He bets Iris $10 he can do a sermon about banana bread -- and does so. (Of course, he's a hustler and probably already had that sermon in his back pocket.) 

His father (Justin Shafer) tells about his valuable volume that describes various demons and how to cast them out. He says, “If you believe in God, you have to believe in the devil. Jesus was an exorcist.” He claims to have practiced 150 exorcisms.

But when they leave the elder Rev. Marcus, Cotton makes a frank admission. “I do not believe in actual demons, no. But I’ve acted like I did. I helped heal them of what ailed them. If they believe it, I maybe helped them.” Marcus said he began to doubt the reality of the supernatural after his son’s birth. His son nearly died but was saved, and Marcus was shocked to find himself thanking the doctor but not God. He realized he might not believe in God anymore.

But he had continued to preach and practice exorcisms. A news story that led him to believe he needed to stop. A young boy, the same age as his son, was killed in a botched exorcism. Marcus says, “I want to expose exorcism for the scam that it is. If keep one kid from being suffocated, I will be doing God’s work.”.

Which is why the documentary crew is accompanying the Rev. Cotton to an exorcism at the Sweetzer Farm in Ivanwood, Georgia (an envelope was picked at random). As they drive to a remote location, Cotton says of the country, “You got voodoo, Roman Catholism, Pentecostalism… Perfect breeding ground for demons and evil.”

He meets Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum) who had written to ask Marcus to exorcise his daughter. Marcus is initially quite upset by the presence of the camera and tells Daniel to stop filming (he doesn’t), and then talks Louis into allowing him to film as he works with Nell (Ashley Bell).

We learn that after Nell’s mother died, Louis had been afraid of worldly influence, so he took Nell out of school and homeschooled her. He was also worried about the worldly influence in the church they were attending -- Pastor Manley (Tony Bentley) allows secular music. So Nell was taken out of Sunday School. Teenagers Nell and her brother, Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones) had been kept isolated on the farm for two years.

But then someone or something begins to brutally slaughter the animals on the Sweetzer farm. Louis believes it's the work of his daughter, Nell, who he believes is demon possessed. When Cotton interviews Nell, she seems quite sweet -- but he agrees to give her a full exam. He first gives her a medical exam (though he admits he’s no doctor) and then gives her a more specialized exam.

Cotton has Nell put her feet in a foot bath. Suddenly, the water begins to bubble. He says they need to continue with the exorcism and goes to his book, claiming to find her demon, Abalam, a powerful demon that defiles his prey. Cotton has Nell lie on her bed and asks her questions, and a powerful voice is heard, shouting and screaming. Cotton calls out the demon and claims Nell is healed.

Marcus talks with the film crew, away from the family, and admits that he used trickery to make the water boil and for the voice of the demon. Marcus takes a large amount of money from Nell’s father, but magnanimously says, “No need to count it, I trust you.” Marcus tells Louis to keep the devil away by loving his daughter. And Marcus and the crew depart to a motel many miles away from the Sweetzer Farm.

Nell comes to their motel, distraught and in horrible condition. They take her to the hospital (where they are asked not to film, but Daniel films away anyway). Nell is pregnant, so when Nell’s father comes to pick her up, there is a greater concern about whether she’ll be safe at home. 

At home on the farm, everything gets worse. And Louis asks Cotton to exorcize Nell again. Things do not go well. When Pastor Manley comes to help, let’s just say he isn’t helpful and does nothing to raise the already very low clergy rating for this film.

The clergy isn’t much better in 2000’s Lost Souls. Catholic school math teacher Maya Larkin (Winona Ryder) joins a team of exorcists to work with a mass killer. (I guess Maya is qualified to help because she was formerly possessed). But Father Lareaux (John Hurt), the pastor who leads the team, ends up being possessed himself. The other prominent priest in the film, Father James (Philip Baker Hall), is leading a plot to bring the antichrist into the world.

I should note that the film opens with an utterly bogus “Scripture” reference: “A man born of incest will become Satan and the world as we know it, will be no more” -- Deuteronomy Book 17. Apparently the qualities of the anti-christ are these three things: born of incest, with no faith, and unbaptized. So it's a pretty narrow field of applicants -- only a few million people have met those three qualifications over the last two thousand years.

I’m giving all the clergy in these films our lowest Movie Churches rating of One Steeple. 

(As we've been mentioning, throughout this month we are featuring DVDs I purchased for Movie Churches, but never got around to viewing. The reasons for procrastination include movies not fitting the themes of the month and films looking rotten, so I haven't been anxious to review them. Lost Souls was pretty bad, but The Last Exorcism was much better than expected.)

No comments:

Post a Comment