A smart horror film will fatten its pigs before the slaughter, and the mock doc The Last Exorcism feeds its prize hog nicely. "That's your word, not mine," insists Cotton (the deliciously smug Fabian) to the lens. The word is fraud.
This Baton Rouge reverend---glib, modern, happily married---chafes only slightly at being called the phony he is. Cotton performs costly local exorcisms when he's not delivering sermons involving magic decks of cards; he's more of a charlatan, armed with crucifixes that spew fake smoke and hidden iPods that emit devil noises. Exploiting his flock has taken its moral toll ("Maybe I'll sell real estate," Cotton half jokes), so the man drives deep into the spooky hinterlands with a camera crew to offer one last de-demonizing.
Oh, how you want this nonbeliever to suffer. (It's the cardinal rule of supernatural films: Never insult the dumb folk.) For a promising stretch, The Last Exorcism feels scripted by a Stephen King--savvy satirist, Cotton nodding sincerely as he asks a nice woman for directions to the "UFO site" and getting a detailed answer. But with the introduction of Nell (Bell), a haunted teenager confined to her religious dad's farm, the movie morphs into a progressively lesser entertainment: first a rape drama, then a sub--Blair Witch running-around-the-woods panic piece. Cotton needs to be made to squeal, to shriek, to wrap that slick patter around an honest-to-goodness evil he can't schmooze his way out of. Of course, Nell's possession is real; it's what we signed up for. But how could the movie deny us the real payoff?---Joshua Rothkopf
Watch the trailer