The Last Exorcism 

Following in the flour-captured footsteps of "Paranormal Activity," "Quarantine" and "The Blair Witch Project" is "The Last Exorcism," another horror film made to look like a documentary. It's a hair better than any of them.

I don't think that anyone will be tricked into thinking it's real, although the cast certainly is more convincing than those other tries. It helps that none of them are names, and that none their faces approach anywhere near the realm of recognition.

Patrick Fabian (TV's "Big Love") commands the screen as Rev. Cotton Marcus, a genuine family man and a wonderfully charismatic preacher at a small Louisiana church. But "love doesn't pay the bills," he notes, which is why he moonlights as a freelance exorcist. The thing is, he doesn't believe in demons; he's just doing it for the cash.

Right away, that makes Marcus more interesting than he otherwise would be. As he explains, some may call him a fraud, but if he can help remove the thought from the minds of people who believe they are possessed by the devil, where's the harm?

The harm exists when exorcisms are performed incorrectly, such as a case he reads about that resulted in the fatal suffocation of a 10-year-old boy. So sickened is Marcus by the outcome, that he not only vows to quit the exorcism biz, but expose it for the sham it is. With a two-man documentary film crew in tow, he takes one final job "? hence the title "? to show the world the wizard behind the curtain, so to speak.

But what if the joke were on Marcus?

That's the premise that keeps the no-frills film chugging along. Even as we see him rigging the room of the virginal, home-schooled, supposedly possessed teenager Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell, TV's "United States of Tara"), we know the tricks he will pull to separate Nell's widowed, Fundamentalist father (Louis Herthum, "12 Rounds") from a wad of cash will be nothing compared to what Ol' Scratch has in store.

Anyone who's seen "The Exorcist" knows every bullet point on that agenda: a turning head, a filthy mouth, even a little puke. Luckily, the movie takes a slight turn or two so it doesn't just rest on William Friedkin's laurels.

Still, to the jaded fright-flick viewer, there is nothing in "The Last Exorcism" that will make one jump, gasp or break a sweat. That's not to say the 87-minute exploration into issues of faith and fear can't be enjoyable, anyway. With solid lead performances and a script that rises above one-trick-pony status, it can and is.

A word of warning: The film is nauseating, literally, thanks to the handheld footage which becomes shakier as proceedings get scarier. A dose of Dramamine beforehand may not be a bad idea.

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