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The Last Exorcism, Get Low 

THE LAST EXORCISM

***

The prospect of journeying to Hell and back seemed less daunting than sitting through another horror yarn made in the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project, but The Last Exorcism proves to be a pleasant surprise -- even more so since Hostel gorehound Eli Roth is listed as one of the film's producers.

Unlike Roth's hard-R outings as a director, The Last Exorcism is rated PG-13, but don't let that debatable rating give the false impression that this is one for the whole family to enjoy. Director Daniel Stamm uses the fake cinema verite style to milk a lot of tension out of this feature in which the charismatic and cynical Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), a reverend who no longer believes what he preaches, takes along a two-person documentary crew to perform an exorcism in some remote Louisiana hellhole, to prove conclusively that exorcisms are bogus (he employs a smoking crucifix and iPod-emanating growls in his act) and merely prey upon the superstitions of rubes.

Cotton thinks he's found a perfect showcase as devout farmer Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum) insists that it's his sweet and innocent teenage daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) who's causing the livestock mutilations while being demonically possessed. After some initial scoffing, Cotton realizes that there is indeed something wrong with the girl, but is it merely psychological trauma or is Satan really hanging around?

Propelled by unexceptionally fine performances from Fabian and Bell, this creepy yarn builds to a powerhouse ending that would be even stronger were it not so choppy and truncated. In fact, too many unanswered questions prevent this movie from soaring to even greater heights. Still, as a deftly executed piece of unsettling cinema, it's only fair to give Daniel Stamm -- and the devil -- their due.

GET LOW

**1/2

Of all the actors who broke through in the 1960s, Robert Duvall is one of the great ones, ranking up there with Gene Hackman and Michael Caine. Yet with rare exception, it's hard to think of a great Robert Duvall performance following his career-topper in the 1989 TV miniseries Lonesome Dove. Even his most acclaimed work since then, such as his Oscar-nominated turns in The Apostle and A Civil Action, hardly seems like a stretch for a man of his considerable talents. Duvall's usually incapable of delivering a performance that's less than acceptable, but his rigid devotion to the image of the folksy Southern sage does mean that he's long lost the ability to surprise.

Get Low, then, finds Duvall in familiar territory, playing a 1930s Tennessee hermit who has the luxury of speaking little and choosing his words wisely since he's invariably always the smartest one in the room. His character, Felix Bush, has lived in self-imposed exile for decades, untroubled by the ugly rumors perpetuated by the nearby townspeople. But Felix needs help to pull off his unique idea -- he wants a funeral party thrown for him while he's still living, so he can attend it and finally reveal his deep, dark secret -- so he turns to the town's shady funeral home director, Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), and Frank's honest assistant Buddy (Lucas Black) to handle the preparations. As the men try to figure out how to pull this off, Felix takes some time out to visit former flame Mattie Darrow (Sissy Spacek).

Felix's unburdening of his secret to a mob of partygoers (how radical these days to see a non-CGI-created crowd scene) feels anticlimactic given the lengthy buildup, and the plot points directly tied to this event -- flashbacks, testy relationships with old acquaintances -- stir little interest. Where the movie succeeds in its ability to successfully pit Duvall's no-nonsense Felix against Murray's calculating Frank. Rather than appearing out of place in this rustic setting, Murray flourishes, relying on his trademark wit and deadpan delivery to not only bring out the best in Duvall but also to frequently one-up him. An Oscar campaign is guaranteed to be built around Duvall, but it's really Murray who allows Get Low to hit its high notes.

 

 

 

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