If you’ve watched any horror films in the last couple of years, you’ve probably seen this one ten times over an exorcism presented in the form of a faux-documentary. Where this film differs from every single other low budget, exorcism film is that the reverend who performs the rite has become a religious sceptic and is making this documentary as a way of exposing just how much of a sham exorcisms are.

Cotton (Fabian), the preacher, is asked to help cure Nell (Bell), a teenage girl who has taken to slaughtering farm animals while retaining no memory of the acts. Cotton agrees to do it in exchange for the permission to film the exorcism. His method though, is decidedly unorthodox. He uses a bunch of gadgets to fake an exorcism in an attempt to help Nell get over what he’s convinced is a psychological condition in which she believes herself to be possessed. When this approach fails, it becomes apparent that they’re dealing with something far more sinister than a teenager’s overactive imagination.

From the moment Cotton announces his religious doubts and his intention behind making the documentary, the entire film just unfolds in your mind, and for the most part it’s identical to what actually ends up playing on screen. Yes, there are a number of twists but they’re generally minor details and take place towards the end. Despite its predictability, the film spends most of its running time playing an is-she-or-isn’t-she game where Cotton keeps trying to rationalise the weird things happening to Nell. It isn’t boring but it does feel rather futile. We all know that she’s actually possessed so why is Cotton taking so long to just accept that fact?

Fabian is a trooper though and gives a pretty lively performance as a man dealing with the aftermath of a crisis of faith only to start questioning his agnosticism. He anchors the movie and is the reason that it’s as watchable as it is. Bell nails both sides of her character - the sheltered, naive girl and the psychotic monster - and Landry is chilling as her protective, abrasive brother.

Apart from the mostly unsurprising plot, the film does manage to establish a rather tense mood and the fake exorcism scene is pretty inspired. However, the found-footage / faux-documentary gimmick that has all but taken over horror really needs to be retired, especially when it’s done pretty sloppily – as is the case here.

The Last Exorcism buries a smart idea under all the trappings of every other similar film that has come out recently. Cotton is a novel character and it would have been more interesting to increase the focus on his dilemma and to test his faith in a less conventional, more explicit manner. As it is, The Last Exorcism is a solid horror film that has tried to inject some smarts into the genre.