The first-person horror movie, shown from the viewpoint of someone holding a camera, continues with The Last Exorcism. This supernatural (or is it?) chiller starts strong and works its way to a terrible ending.

The Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) is well liked, charismatic, has a wife and kids, runs a successful ministry, even performs exorcisms -- and he's a self-proclaimed fraud. Some time ago he lost his faith, treating his religious work as a job instead of a calling -- and exorcisms as a way to provide psychological relief to people believing they're possesses (plus making a lot of money from it).

The movie-within-this-movie happens when Marcus is outraged over the harm and deaths caused by exorcisms. Marcus' solution: get a two-person film crew to follow and film him when he gets a request to perform an exorcism, so he can show the tricks of his trade.

The request comes from Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum), who believes his 16-year-old daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) is possessed. Louis is an extremely conservative Christian who lives in the middle of nowhere in Louisiana on a farm with Nell and his teenage son Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones). Livestock have been mutilated, Nell has been covered in blood with no memory of what happened, and so Louis turns to Marcus for an exorcism. As one might expect from a horror movie, things don't go according to plan...

There's a lot to like early on in The Last Exorcism. The movie has a lot of ambiguity about what is happening. Is Nell possessed? Is she crazy? Has her father gone off the deep end, willing to chain her to keep her out of trouble? Are Nell's pictures showing the deaths Marcus and his people foreshadowing, or just another sign of madness? Patrick Marcus makes a great protagonist as the reverend, an honest fraud who still tries to go good. And the movie actually has a musical score, so unlike other fake horror documentaries this one lets you relax and enjoy it as a movie instead of pretending it could really have happened.

But the ending... Apart from numerous painful contortions on the part of Ashley Bell, not to mention no authorities getting involved (even after a trip to the hospital), the conclusion of this movie is simply terrible. Of all the possibilities presented early in the movie, The Last Exorcism goes a route that's both silly and unbelievable. I haven't seen a horror movie fall away from a strong start so badly since Jeepers Creepers. Fortunately, the ending doesn't ruin all that came before it; unfortunately, it really does hurt what could have been a fine scare.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch

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