The preacher is a charlatan, a huckster. The Rev. Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) went into the family business, became a compelling performer and ekes out a living in his corner of Louisiana.
He also took up his dad's exorcism practice, "because if you believe in God, you have to believe in demons." He doesn't believe in either, so it's no big deal for him to visit the gullible, put on a show and chase away demons — for a fee.
He's followed around by a film crew as he talks frankly, mockingly, about his work and "the business." The idea, he says, is to "expose exorcism for the scam it really is." After this, he'll change careers. "Maybe I'll sell real estate."
The Last Exorcism is a "Blair Exorcist Project" about Cotton's trip into the bayou — or that Hollywood corner of it where everybody is a rube but nobody has an authentic accent — to exorcise teenage Nell (Ashley Bell). A non-believer is confronted with evidence that it's not his parlor tricks that cause lights to flicker and moans to rumble out of the walls.
Daniel Stamm's film is a modestly chilling, drawn-out affair. The characters and possible "scientific explanations" are more interesting than its predictable finale. Bell is a perfectly demonic presence. Fabian is absolutely credible as a man who will not accept the super natural and who isn't shy about hustling the hicks.
But when he sees that he can't help this child, he urges her dad (Louis Herthum) to take her to a doctor. He reaches out to her creepy brother (Caleb Landry Jones) despite the boy's constant threats. He tries to do the right thing. He's a charlatan with a conscience.
Stamm's film would have benefited from narrowing the focus to a day and then a long, chilling night instead of a few days. There's humor in the unseen camera operator's fear, in the protective instincts of the director (Iris Bahr), who is ready to involve social services, a modern, big-city solution for a backward, superstitious community's problem.
But strip it down to its basics and The Last Exorcism, which occasionally breaks out of the documentary "found footage" format, will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Its grisly violence and ridicule-religion tone make it an anti-Exorcism of Emily Rose. And this hustle isn't slapped with a "based on a true story" come-on.