When done right, demonic possession is a something that can disturb movie viewers like few other horror tropes. Sure, the idea of seeing our friends rise from the dead to eat our brains is discomforting and tearing our clothing every full moon cycle sounds unpleasant, but the idea of something evil inhabiting our own body as we sit trapped inside is a deeply dark level of human horror. There’s a reason The Exorcist had the effect it did on Friday night movie house audiences, and while I’ll personally always prefer its third telling, I can certainly understand why William Friedken’s work turned stomachs and twisted minds in the 1970s.
Exorcismus has an interesting angle to take on the possession theme. Much like the rather outstanding The Last Exorcism, it toys with the idea of repression and adolescence as the cause/explanation of what might not actually be a demon inhabitation. It’s a good start.
Quick Plot: Emma is your typically moody 15 year old teenager with a less common problem: being home-schooled by her square dad and super Catholic mom alongside her younger do-gooder brother. That kind of schedule can drive a young woman to extremes, be they hanging out with ill-behaved friends or, you know, slicing open her palm to invite Satan in to party.
After getting strange visions of cockroach infestation, having seizures in the kitchen and maybe causing her psychologist’s heart attack, Emma’s problem becomes a tad more serious. Thankfully--or not--her uncle John happens to be a priest with his own experience/failure performing exorcisms on teenage girls.
The main thrust of Exorcismus is the constant questioning of whether or not Emma is indeed possessed. On that front, the film has some interesting themes to play with. Emma is unhappy being home-schooled and the results have built up a solid frustration souring her on all fronts, especially towards her family. Even Emma herself is unsure whether the demon inside her is of supernatural origin. For all she knows, it may be mental illness that her overeager uncle is simply too quick to misdiagnose.
Exorcismus is a well-directed and acted film (even underneath British dubbing), but it never seemed to reel me in. Filmed in a close, occasionally shaky-cam style, it has an effectively claustrophobic feel that does well in capturing Emma’s own confused psyche. At the same time, the story’s reluctance to ever commit to horror or family drama goes on too long to the point where its final decision comes more with a ‘finally’ than ‘a-ha!’
Yes, you’ve also seen it in The Last Exorcism, but the parallels between repressed womanhood and demonic possession are done quite well here, especially in the hands of lead actress Sophie Vavasseur (yes, she's dubbed in the Instant Watch version, but her physical acting is still vital)
Maybe it was Exorcismus’ slow pacing that eventually segues into an awkwardly fit twist, but I just couldn’t truly find my way into the film’s storytelling
“Just wait to see if it happens again” is not the best attitude to take when your daughter is having seizures
Catholics get off on all that Satan crap
Car accidents that take place in super slow motion are typically 95% more fatal than those in real time
Available on Instant Watch through IFC Films, Exorcismus is a perfectly competent possession yarn that might indeed lend you some creeps or something to ponder. It never grabbed me, but I won’t deny that Manuel Carballo’s direction had some freshness about it that made the film a decent way to spend 90 minutes or so. Fans of Exorcist-ish cinema will probably enjoy it, while those looking to catch a few minutes of Doug Bradley sans pins in his head will at least get that.
It just doesn’t look right.