My review of The Last Exorcism has been posted at Playtime. This is the fourth in a series of articles I’ve written on what I call the “docu-horror” subgenre that can be traced most directly back to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, although I suppose there are precedents even earlier in cinema with which I’m unfamiliar. I’ve never seen Cannibal Holocaust or any of Mondo’s Faces of Death films; nor have they intrigued me enough (from what little information I have gathered) to do further reading. I’d be interested to learn more if anyone has knowledge related to this subgenre they’d like to share.
In previous installments, I’ve discussed Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead, Quarantine, and Paranormal Activity 2. I find the application of documentary technique to the horror genre incredibly fascinating, and even if it has been done before, it is notable that it is now a mainstream technique. The ethical implications that the documentary technique has on genre films is tremendous, and I believe that this kind of aesthetic will proliferate as feature films start to be made and distributed more independently, especially now that Blu-Ray players and game consoles offer distribution options to filmmakers. It was not uncommon for filmmakers to get their films out on the Internet, but now every electronic device is wired to cyberspace somehow. Even the new phones come with keyboards and apps that let you watch movies. This format may be detrimental to enjoying a film like Lawrence of Arabia, but it may be perfect for settling down to watch segments of the latest entry in the Paranormal Activity franchise.
Readers of this blog who are explicitly more interested in Christian film commentary than more conventional formal criticism should find my thoughts on The Last Exorcism of particular interest. It’s the first time I’ve explicitly theorized about the documentary trend in genre films in theological terms. My thoughts in this arena are constantly evolving, and I’m more interested in provoking discussion than issuing edicts. I suppose a lot of folks are already sick of documentary techniques in non-documentary films, but I find the experimentation to be very exciting, especially since it will inevitably gravitate towards more explicitly spiritual material. The Last Exorcism is the first film I’ve seen done in this technique that tries to address the question of faith, and it’s not a great film, but it opens up a lot of pathways for future consideration. Horror films have long been used to grapple with religion (and Christianity in particular, at least in the U.S.), and if this represents a new way of thinking about these themes, I can’t wait to see what comes next.