This unnerving horror opus smartly undermines preconceptions with more naturalism and less phoniness than expected.
The Last Exorcism is a disarmingly edgy, canny fictional feature shot as a "confessional" documentary, and in its jittery, hand-held approach may remind some of polarizing films like The Blair Witch Project or, more recently, Cloverfield.
This fairly dextrous dramatic thriller may have a documentary antecedent some 40 years ago as it works from an albatross on the conscience of one Rev. Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian). From what he's done over time with desperate believers.
Cotton's father (John Wright, Jr.) influenced him to become a charismatic preacher, and, if need be, cast out malevolence.
So, an impromptu, fly-on-the-wall cinema verite develops as the preacher honors a request from earnest fundamentalist Louis Sweetzer (Louis Hertham) about what's going with his daughter Nell (Ashley Bell). Under Cotton's employ are a television crew (Iris Bahr and Adam Grimes) to film one last exorcism during his crisis of faith.
Events appearing on celluloid may appear to be "controlled", but as depicted, the understated acting and production itself has an authenticity with sardonic and painful situations out there when logic seems to go out the window. All around the Reverend's existence in everyday life with his dad, wife (Shanna Forrestall) and son (Justin Shafer).
Credit helmer Daniel Stamm, his writers and crew for an alarming clarity without divulging very much as Bell, and notably Fabian, provide ambivalence to their vivid characters often under intense circumstances.
For a late summer entry here is something brimming with more humor and intelligence for something this haunting. Some might have to suspend some disbelief when irony and reason are shaken to the core as Cotton and his crew members aren't prepared for the ghastly goings-on at a rural Louisiana farm.
The final, ill-conceived moments might seem like a cheap thrill of a cop-out for some, tacked-on for ingratiating a broader demographic. But, even if The Last Exorcism hadn't concluded a few minutes earlier (what would have almost been the same length as the original Blair Witch) it manages to invigorate in a creepy indeterminable way.