When he arrives on the rural Louisiana farm of Louis Sweetzer, the Reverend Cotton Marcus expects to perform just another routine “exorcism” on a disturbed religious fanatic. An earnest fundamentalist, Sweetzer has contacted the charismatic preacher as a last resort, certain his teenage daughter Nell is possessed by a demon who must be exorcized before their terrifying ordeal ends in unimaginable tragedy. Buckling under the weight of his conscience after years of parting desperate believers from their money, Cotton and his crew plan to film a confessionary documentary of this, his last exorcism. But upon his arrival at the already blood-drenched family farm, it is soon clear that nothing could have prepared him for the true evil he encounters there. Now, too late to turn back, Reverend Marcus’ own beliefs are shaken to the core as he and his crew must find a way to save Nell – and themselves – before it is too late.
Just when you thought it was safe to see another shaky, handheld, faux-documentary horror movie… along comes The Last Exorcism to raise the creep factor. Supposedly we are watching a documentary crew tagging along after one Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), a hell-raising preacher who sidelines in exorcisms. He's got a leather-bound volume full of dire drawings and incantations, and he knows the rubes just eat this kind of stuff up. Now Cotton has vowed to expose his own gimmicks for the camera, so he journeys to backwoods Louisiana to answer the call to save a putatively possessed girl--the better to debunk his own methods, once and for all, and get out of the exorcism business. Sounds like nothing could possibly go wrong. Then we meet the Sweetzer family: bible-thumping papa (Louis Herthum), not-quite-right son Caleb (eerie Caleb Jones), and possessed daughter Nell (Ashley Bell). Someone's been mutilating the farm's livestock, and dear little Nell has the vacant stare and sweet smile of a demon child. Director Daniel Stamm wisely allows the buildup to go on and on in non-hyped fashion, letting the sense of reality increase with each scene--the better to unleash the mayhem in the second half of the movie. It all goes over the top, and obviously the "found footage" gimmick has long since become a cliché that you either go along with or reject. But the climax is enough to warm the heart of any self-respecting fan of devil movies, and The Last Exorcism is distinguished by some very good performances, especially TV veteran Patrick Fabian, who creates a deft, funny, full-blooded character. --Robert Horton