AS FAR AS I WAS CONCERNED, The Last Exorcism had three strikes against it before the opening credits: It's a horror movie in the tired, faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project; it's produced by smug, wunderkind wannabe Eli Roth (Hostel); and it's pursuing a subject that's been tapped out since 1973. So it was a pleasant surprise to find Exorcism thoroughly accomplished, current, and chilling.
Patrick Fabian plays Cotton Marcus, a former child preacher grown wry and skeptical. Beaming with boyish charm, Marcus sets off with a film crew to perform his last exorcism ever, a practice he wishes to expose as nothing more than a lucrative placebo for stubborn rubes.
Director Daniel Stamm ratchets up The Last Exorcism's tension almost imperceptibly as Marcus and his crew try to deal with a seemingly possessed teenage girl, Nell Sweetzer (a wonderful Ashley Bell), and her glowering family. By the time Nell starts having conversations with invisible men and smashing cats with camcorders, the stress is almost unbearable. And more importantly, Exorcism exploits the growing American cultural divide between the rural faithful and secular city folk in ways that made my butthole tighten. If that's not a seal of approval for a horror film, I don't know what is. Eli Roth, you're forgiven!