Movie review: ‘The Last Exorcism’

“The Last Exorcism” stirs up a caldron of handheld-camera technique, faith-challenged drama and solid acting for a suitably squirmy tale of demonic possession. It won’t supplant " The Exorcist,” but it stands up nicely to DIY-tinged shiver stalwarts “The Blair Witch Project” and “Paranormal Activity.”

Director Daniel Stamm’s faux documentary begins as a “Marjoe"-like portrait of Cotton Marcus ( Patrick Fabian), a charming huckster preacher who intends to show a film crew how the fake-exorcism business works by taking the case of a distraught, hyper-religious Louisiana farmer (Louis Herthum) who believes the devil has taken hold of his teenage daughter (Ashley Bell).

Naturally, a few freaky incidents point to a situation not so easily explainable, but what roots this chiller beyond a creepily effective farmhouse locale and admirably claustrophobic camerawork are two oft-ignored keys to good horror: humor and performance. Early laughs from Fabian’s lapsed-believer cynicism are like nervous ice-breakers for the second half’s grim turn of events, when Bell takes over with an eerie physicality that elicits a potent mixture of fear and sympathy.

As with many well-intentioned scare flicks, the wrapping-up feels dissipated and obvious, but for a good while “The Last Exorcism” makes for an atmospheric, character-rich stab at movie fright.

“The Last Exorcism.” MPAA rating: PG-13. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. In general release.