Film and TV

New On DVD: The Last Exorcism, Machete, Case 39, Catfish, Dinner for Schmucks, Howl

(Capsule reviews by J. Hoberman, Dan Kois, Karina Longworth, Nick Pinkerton and Chuck Wilson.)

The Last Exorcism With a small, well-chosen cast, sly script, and slippery, ambivalent characters, The Last Exorcism gives a welcome twist to the demonic possession movie. A fourth-generation minister, Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) has grown out of the trembling faith of his forebears. As The Last Exorcism begins, we follow Cotton through a day-in-the-life, shot from a documentary film crew's handheld p.o.v. The filmmakers have come to track Cotton on an expose mission. The end of a line of exorcists, Cotton has decided to give away the game on the practice.

Cotton and crew follow a request for divine intervention to the Sweetzer farm in Ivanwood, Louisiana. When Cotton calls the backcountry "a perfect breeding ground for demons and evil," you can hear the scare quotes around the "demons" and "evil," antique words synonymous with ignorance. But the past isn't past with Sweetzer patriarch Louis (Louis Herthum), concerned about daughter Nell (Ashley Bell), who's been having mysterious blackouts, after which livestock are found slaughtered. Cotton delivers his casting-out-of-demons spiel, then collects his payment. But this doesn't quick-fix Nell, now going through violent sleepwalk seizures and gymnastic contortions. A well-paced tease, the script is a succession of slow approaches to understanding what's happening, with each new understanding revealing a false bottom. The suspense is ideological--is this a world of documentary pragmatism or horror irrationality? Either everything has a textbook explanation in shame and repression--or we must heed the immortal words of the Louvin Brothers and believe that Satan is Real. (N.P.)

100 minutes Rated PG-13

Machete Things you should know going in: Mexicans like hydraulics in their cars, and white people assume all Mexicans are janitors or gardeners. Created by Robert Rodriguez for Danny Trejo, Machete--a leather-faced, ex-Federale turned down-and-dirty hitman turned violent crusader on behalf of his fellow illegal immigrants, a would-be superhero envisioned as a "Mexican Jean-Claude Van Damme or Charles Bronson"--first appeared in Grindhouse's trailer for a Machete film that didn't exist--yet. In the trailer, Machete is hired by slick operative Jeff Fahey to kill an anti-immigration senator, only to be "set up, double-crossed, and left for dead." Machete the movie stretches the narrative to 105 minutes, filling the extra space with PG-13 suggestions of sex, social satire, and star power and is made with a laziness that's so overt it seems to be part of the joke, to the point where certain shots are straight recycled from the fake trailer, including an orgy scene in a pool featuring an uncredited blonde playing the character played by Lindsay Lohan in other scenes. When Machete isn't laugh-out-loud funny, it's deadly boring. The best that can be said is that its makers are self-aware about its superficiality, and even nod to it in an exchange between Jessica Alba and Trejo in the final scene. "You can be a real person," she says. His response: "Why would I want to be a real person, when I'm already a myth?" (K.L.)

105 minutes Rated R

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