The Last Rite

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Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Last Rite
"The psychological dimension adds depth to the story." | Photo: Courtesy of FrightFest

Exorcism films are a form of horror that you either get or you don’t. Viewers with religious backgrounds which incorporate belief in demonic possession tend to find them scary on a whole different level from the rest of us. But by combining that idea with themes around stalking and sleep paralysis, first time feature director (and former wrestling star) Leroy Kincaide has made a film with wider relevance, which many people will feel a connection to.

It all centres on Lucy (Bethan Waller), an ordinary young woman who nevertheless has her share of problems, with hints of a difficult childhood and a troubled relationship with her boyfriend Ben (Johnny Fleming). She’s been getting along well enough day to day, but things begin to go wrong as she gets the feeling that she’s being watched, that there’s some shadowy figure persistently present in her orbit. This may be connected – as cause or effect – with the fact that she’s struggling to get a proper night’s sleep, experiencing nightmares and an inability to move when she wakes up. Sleep paralysis is a well known phenomenon caused by the hormone which prevents (most of) us from acting out our dreams and potentially doing ourselves harm in the process, but sometimes it lingers in the body for a little too long. During this time, people from different cultures, all around the world, report seeing similar figures approaching them, including, most notably, a shadowy man who looks as if he’s wearing a hat.

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It’s this iconic image which Lucy keeps seeing, and it’s freaking her out – the more so as she becomes aware of the mythology around it. She’s not stupid, however, and doesn’t want to buy into internet conspiracy theories. We follows her as she approaches different possible sources of authority to try and figure out what’s happening to her. Eventually she turns to a priest, but he’s not the battle-scarred rogue scholar we usually encounter in such films – he’s a much more ordinary, cautious man who is probably an expert in tea and scones but is seriously lacking in expertise when it comes to demonic forces, and knows it. The idea that even he might not be able to help her – and might not really believe her – plunges Lucy into despair. The priest, in turn, finds himself morally conflicted as events lead him to give Lucy’s story a bit more credibility. Does he have the skill to help her? Knowing that the Church would take months to get an expert on the job, should he attempt it anyway?

This psychological dimension adds depth to the story. The acting is adequate but not especially strong, and we don’t have any particularly charismatic figure to hold our attention, but on the plus side, this contributes to a sense of ordinariness which reminds us that possession, if we take it seriously at all, could happen to anyone. In particular, we are told, it happens to people with existing psychological vulnerabilities. In Lucy’s case, much of this vulnerability comes from her boyfriend’s bullying and general lack of sympathy, which – though he also seems to have some real concerns for her – only gets worse as he tries to deal with disrupted sleep and with having a girlfriend who is less and less able to fit neatly into his life in the way he wants.

Kincaide has done his homework and runs through the index of demonic possession scares competently enough. One suspects that his wrestling background may be a contributor to the physicality of Waller’s performance in the latter stages of the film, when she uses space well and presents us with a figure who seems credibly dangerous to all the men present. This is all familiar stuff, however, with little else to make it stand out. The more interesting ideas present in the first two thirds of the film never really develop very far and are forgotten about once the film moves into straight out horror territory.

The Last Rite proves that Kincaide can direct and may well give him the opportunity to work on more interesting projects in the future. In itself, it’s watchable enough, but unless it happens to touch on your personal insecurities then it’s unlikely to make a lasting impression.

Reviewed on: 23 Nov 2021
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A medical student suffering from sleep paralysis finds herself plagued by a demonic entity, after moving in with her boyfriend.

Director: Leroy Kincaide

Writer: Leroy Kincaide

Starring: Tara Hoyos-Martinez, Bethan Waller, David Kerr

Year: 2021

Runtime: 107 minutes

Country: UK

Festivals:

Frightfest 2021

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