A couple of weeks ago, I put forth The Last Exorcism as a likely candidate to become a late-summer sleeper hit. At the end of its first weekend in theaters, the box office returns look good, and the critical consensus does too -- with the exception of the ending, which took a drumming from everyone and their mother. MaryAnn Johanson writes that the movie is "absolutely worth seeing... if only for the intriguing debate to be had afterward, if it wouldn't be an even stronger film were the last five minutes or so to be chopped off." The A.V. Club's Keith Phipps laments that "the finale abandons the [movie's] carefully constructed ambiguity." Owen Gleiberman: "For a while, the movie shrewdly exploits our voyeurism, all built around the teasing question of whether there's actually anything supernatural going on. The payoff, however, simply isn't scary enough. The movie is like The Exorcist without a spine-tingling catharsis." And so forth.
I'm of two minds about the direction Daniel Stamm's film takes in the final minutes. On one hand, I appreciate the way the movie toys with us before full-tilt careening toward the supernatural, and my fondness for pseudo-biblical horror films ensured that I'd get at least a small kick from the final twist. I also thought that the ending, and specifically the sudden callback of a piece of information dispensed earlier, recalled -- in a positive way -- the bone-chilling final shots of The Blair Witch Project.
On the other, I agree that the ending wreaks havoc on the film's themes. Ultimately it's not clear what the movie wants to say about the way religious thinking makes people easy pray for hucksters and scam artists. In this sense, I much prefer The Last Exorcism's first twist ending -- the one that makes Cotton's camera crew turn around and head back to the Sweetzer homestead. I'm also not sure the movie ultimately makes sense -- what parts of Nell's possession were real, and what parts were her attempt to get herself rescued? I don't think it's possible to answer that question.
Still, I stand by my original judgment that The Last Exorcism is scary as hell. What did you think? Did it do a number on you? And did the last few minutes break the spell?