The cleverest device in this possession-mockumentary is its central character – a cynical pastor who agrees to expose his own fraudulent behaviour for the camera when it comes to performing for the Lord. It’s a nice idea that frames a fairly conventional demon-in-the-innocent-girl story, but proves too much for the filmmakers who are forced to cheat around the constraint of the supposed documentary form, ultimately undermining their own movie.
Shot with a deliberate low-budget documentary feel – handheld, with crash-zooms and plenty of slow-to-find-focus moments – we pick up the story at the small Southern ministry of charismatic preacher Rev. Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian). After conning many a family with magic tricks that pass for exorcism, he’s decided to expose himself by asking a film crew to join him on one last job. Randomly selecting one of many requests to out the devil, he and the two-person film crew travel to a remote, swampy farm deep in the backcountry where the Bible Belt meets Louisiana Voodoo. There they find Nell (Ashley Bell), a young girl who – according to her father Louis (Louis Herthum) – is killing farm animals while under the influence of Satan. Reverend Marcus dons his best linen suit, wires up Nell’s bedroom and performs his fake exorcism. After a stellar performance – explaining all his tricks on camera as he goes – Marcus seems to have cured the girl and convinced Louis that the evil has gone for good. But wait for it…the real Satan hasn’t finished with Nell. And he hasn’t even started on Marcus and the camera crew.
For horror aficionados the film has little to shock, surprise or even raise the stakes in the first hour – the slow to build narrative often feeling like the dreary documentary form it is parodying. It’s only when the real devil struts his stuff that things get interesting, but then Director Daniel Stamm takes a departure from the single shot film crew concept by introducing horror music, and editing what looks much more like a conventionally shot film. Whilst the storytelling is strong enough at that point to mask the shift, it makes you wonder why Stramm and Splat-pack producer Eli Roth bothered with the mockumentary form at all. The story and performances are strong enough to have been played out as straight narrative.
For those who like their possession flicks to unfold with more subtlety and less gore, this is a perfectly acceptable addition to the genre, but The Last Exorcism doesn’t hold a candle to the first: the much more creepy and totally unforgettable The Exorcist.