The film is told from the perspective of a disillusioned evangelical minister, who after years of performing exorcisms decides to participate in a documentary chronicling his last exorcism while exposing the fraud of his ministry. After receiving a letter from a farmer asking for help in driving out the devil, he meets the farmer's afflicted daughter.
The Last Exorcism has received generally positive reviews from critics, but polarizing reviews among general audiences.
A sequel titled The Last Exorcism Part II was released in 2013 focusing on Nell, who survived the events of the last film but with little memory of what occurred, as the evil force that once possessed her comes back with a more sinister intention.
Provides examples of:
- Based on a Great Big Lie: Cotton tries to prove that exorcisms and demon possessions are this.
- Break the Cutie: Poor, poor Nell.
- Camera Abuse: Prime example: The possessed girl uses the camera to beat a cat to death while she's recording it.
- Crisis of Faith: Cotton lost his belief in God when his son nearly died in childbirth.
- The Cuckoolander Was Right: Louis, who had been portrayed as a crazy and superstitious person throughout the movie, turns out to be right about the whole thing being supernatural.
- Decon-Recon Switch: The film starts out as a deconstruction of Demonic Possession movies. Cotton is a charlatan who lost his faith in God long ago, and the various cases of possession that he tackles are portrayed as psychosomatic, signs of mental illness as expressed by people brought up to believe that demons are real. The thing is, the exorcisms are also psychosomatic, and Cotton's work is shown to genuinely help those who believe that they're possessed by making them believe that the demons have been driven out of them, which is the reason why he kept doing it for so long. And when it turns out that, in this case, the demon is Real After All, this knowledge restores Cotton's faith in God just in time for the final confrontation.
- Deep South: Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
- Demonic Possession: Surely, a movie about exorcisms would have ''nothing'' to do with the subject!
- Evil All Along: Pastor Manley and Caleb.
- Friend to All Children: Cotton explains that one of reasons why he's helping Daniel and Iris debunk exorcisms is because he once read an article of an autistic child being suffocated to death during an exorcism; as such, he wants to ensure that people who are actually struggling with mental issues don't end up dead like the boy.
- Foreshadowing: Nell's drawings.
- And the interview of locals telling of a Satanic cult.
- Gory Discretion Shot: In the sequel, when Chris slits his throat.
- HeelFaith Turn: Throughout the entire movie Cotton is trying to debunk exorcism, but in the end, when he sees the demon, he regains his faith and confronts it. Could also serve as a last-minute Badass Preacher, as he confronts a demon with only a crucifix.
- Hollywood Atheist: The Rev. Cotton Marcus, who lost his faith after his child's brush with death and after hearing reports of an exorcism gone fatally wrong.
- Hollywood Satanism
- Humanoid Abomination: But it's not who you think...
- Jitter Cam: Not so bad as most.
- Kill It with Fire: How Nell gets rid of the girls at the boarding house.
- The Last Title: The title.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: How the movie starts. And then it turns out to be magic.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: As it turns out in the end.
- Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book
- Off with His Head!: The fate of the cameraman.
- Precision F-Strike: In the sequel, Nell tells a tourist to fuck off after he keeps pestering her for a picture.
- Real After All: Basically the driving idea behind the whole movie: religion, Satan, demons, the cult, the opening into hell... all real.
- Red Herring: The ramblings of a local early in the film, combined with the mutilated cows shortly thereafter, subtly suggest that aliens might be at work. Whether or not that would've been scarier is open for debate, of course.
- Refuge in Audacity: Cotton brags that he's so good at working the crowd that he can get an ecstatic amen for a banana bread recipe, and then demonstrates just that.
- Religious Horror
- Religion of Evil: Revealed in the last few moments of the movie to be the culprit.
- The Savage South: Religious fanaticism, Satanic cults, demons, and other creepy shit, way on down the bayou in Louisiana.
- Screamer Prank: To advertise the movie, there was a short 30-second video made for this intent to be put on online chat websites like Omegle. The video depicted a young girl teasing the other person chatting by unbuttoning the top of her blouse and smiling seductively, and then she puts her head down for a moment. When she puts her head back up, her eyes roll into the back of her head, her mouth opens (revealing sharp fangs) and she screams as she lunges at the camera - and again right after the screen cuts to black.
- Spotting the Thread: How Cotton realizes Nell isn't genuinely possessed. A real demon would never use the phrase "blowing job" as a term for oral sex; a naive, home-schooled 16-year old, however, would.
- Supernatural-Proof Father: Subverted with Louis, who believes his daughter to be genuinely possessed. He's right.
- Uncertain Doom: We never see what exactly happens to Cotton after he confronts the demon.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The only other returning character to the sequel is Louis. There is no mention of Caleb or the Satanic cult whatsoever.