The Last Exorcism (2010)

Rating: B

Dir: Daniel Stamm
Star: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, Louis Hertham

Reverend Cotton Marcus (Fabian) is a long-time preacher, specializing in exorcisms, but had a crisis of faith after his wife died, and admits to a film-crew that the whole idea of possession is a load of hokum – he simply gives people what they want. He takes the crew along on one last exorcism, out to a farm in rural Louisiana where the behaviour of Nell Sweetzer (Bell) is seriously troubling her father (Hertham) – she’s killing and mutilating his livestock, but professes no knowledge of her actions thereafter. Marcus finds a religiously strict family – Nell was removed from Sunday school because of the “modern” music there – but an apparently sweet, if perhaps troubled, young girl at the centre of things.

He stages his usual fake exorcism, with its array of conjuring tricks, and leaves with everything apparently under control. That lasts as far as the local motel where they’re spending the night; Nell shows up in the small hours, and it’s apparent that the exorcism might have done more harm than good, both to Nell and her father. I enjoy a good, loopily religious movie now and again, despite not being in the slightest bit religious, and this certainly fits the bill. Admittedly, it does topple over the edge in the final reel; no, make that “run screaming and whooping over the edge,” since there’s a gleeful excess there, approximately one part disturbing to two parts laughable, though both sides provide entertainment value.

It’s more effective when keeping things closer to its chest, and there’s doubt about whether Nell is possessed, troubled, or possibly a victim of something worse than an over-protective father. Bell plays both sides of the character with impressive clarity, and the result, along with the style, which copies that of a documentary, adds to the sense of doubt, as you don’t know whether Marcus has stumbled into something or not. It probably helps that I knew almost nothing about the film when I saw it, though I never conceived of it as “real”. As fakes go, however, it’s an entertaining slab of fundamentalist Christian nonsense.