Movie Talk

Ambiguous ‘Last Exorcism’ Ending Causes Controversy

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Though the faux-umentary horror flick "The Last Exorcism" raked in a healthy $21 million this past weekend -- landing it a hair's breadth from winning the weekend box office -- the movie seems to have royally ticked off a lot of viewers.

"Exorcism" got a strong start on Friday, but apparent toxic word of mouth led to a striking 24% drop in ticket sales by Saturday night. According to the market research firm CinemaScore, audience members gave the "The Last Exorcism" a D.

So what was the problem? Perhaps it's the film's jarringly abrupt ending. John Young from EW.com reported that when he saw "Exorcism," the audience was audibly annoyed when the credits rolled, shouting profanities at the screen.

So what was it about the ending that ticked off so many people? WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS COMING.

The film centers on Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), a jaded preacher who does one last exorcism for a documentary crew. The victim, Nell Sweetzer (a very limber Ashley Bell), is either actually possessed by the devil or is suffering from profound psychological issues, which, judging from her rough, remote, and rigid upbringing, wouldn't be too much of a stretch to believe. "Exorcism" starts to get weird during the last ten minutes when Marcus and the documentary crew returns to the Sweetzer farm unannounced. They stumble onto a sort of bizarre ceremony before a massive bonfire. It turns out that the seemingly pious Pastor Manley (Tom Bentley) is actually a Satanist. Laying in front of the congregation, Nell gives birth to a red, spikey demonic creature that the Pastor immediately pitches into the fire. As Cotton walks towards the fire with cross in hand, the camera crew is discovered. While the producer gets axed, the cameraman, with the camera still rolling, sprints into the woods. Soon enough, however, Nell's brother and fellow Satanist, Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones) catches and beheads him. The end.

The "Rosemary's Baby" meets "Blair Witch" ending was so out of left field that a lot of audience members felt blindsided. Many felt that dramatic tension centering on whether Nell was possessed or just crazy imploded in the film's final ten minutes in a shaky-cam jumble of blood and pentagrams.

"Ultimately it's not clear what the movie wants to say about the way religious thinking makes people easy prey for hucksters and scam artists," writes Eugene Novikov of Cinmatical. "I'm also not sure the movie ultimately makes sense."

But where some saw muddled confusion, others saw admirable ambiguity. "The last thing 'The Last Exorcism' needed was a tacked-on denouement that tidied up the plot," wrote John Young of EW.com. "I left a satisfied customer."

The director, Daniel Stamm, is unapologetic about the untidiness of his film's final minutes. "People found the ending too abrupt, but you can't tie the story up neatly if your photographer is killed. If you and I walked into a devil worshiper mass, we wouldn't know what was going on. We wouldn't understand where to point the camera, and who the big boss is. We would never understand it. That to me is the meaning of the ending."

Watch the Trailer for 'The Last Exorcism' (Viewer Discretion Advised):

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