Newcomer Ashley Bell Bent Over Backwards to Make ‘The Last Exorcism’ Scarily Real
Sometimes all it takes to turn a movie into a “must-see” is one memorable image. Lately, those memorable moments from trailers and ads have been eye-popping digital effects. Like tidal waves cresting over the Himalayas in “2012” or giant robots tumbling down the highway in “Transformers.”
This week’s horror movie release “The Last Exorcism” has been garnering much attention with a shot just as impressive as anything from a big-budget blockbuster. The trailer ends with the image of a young woman in a nightgown and boots bent over backwards at an impossible angle. It’s so memorable and unsettling that the studio used it for the movie’s poster. What makes it impressive, though, is that it does not use any special effects. No CGI, no puppets. That shot is actress Ashley Bell bending like that for real.
“The Last Exorcism” uses a documentary-style approach to telling the story of a minister who has spent decades duping people with fake exorcisms. Tired of the deception, he takes a film crew with him to expose the fraudulent practice. But he discovers that Nell, the afflicted farm girl he’s sent to “cure,” may actually be possessed by a demon.
The film is the 24-year-old Ashley Bell’s first leading movie role. She was previously best known for a recurring role on Showtime’s series “The United States of Tara.” Bell comes from a family of actors; her father, Michael Bell, has been doing voices on cartoons like “G.I. Joe” and “The Smurfs” since the 1970s, and her mother, Victoria Carroll, was a founding member of Hollywood’s renowned improvisational comedy troupe, The Groundlings. Bell used both her vocal and improv skills in her audition, acting out an exorcism on the spot and nailing the role.
Producer Eli Roth (“Hostel”) says the goal of the film was to make everything happening on screen look as real as possible, and Bell made that happen: “What you see is one-hundred percent Ashley Bell — we did not use any makeup, CGI, or special effects in her scenes.” Roth went on to say, “it’s all her doing everything you see, down to the bulging veins on her neck and the back bends.”
For the scene where she bends backwards, Bell told the Toronto Sun it took 20 grueling takes to get the shot just right. She joked, “[Director Daniel Stamm] nailed my boots down, pushed me over and yelled, ‘Action!'”
Patrick Fabian, who plays the exorcist, Reverend Cotton Marcus, confirmed that Bell’s performance was just as chilling to watch on the set as it is in the movie. He said, “Ashley would be turning her neck or slithering on the floor and a voice would come out and it just creeped us out. There was no acting involved in there.”
Bell stated that while the film’s shoot was incredibly demanding, she was happy to do it, no matter the physical cost. She said, “I got a lot of bruises and I was so proud of them, like, ‘Yes, war wounds!'”
“The Last Exorcism” opens this Friday.
Watch the Trailer for ‘The Last Exorcism’
(Viewer Discretion Advised: Frightening Content)