Judge Daryl Loomis spits invectives whether or not he's possessed.
Deliver us from evil.
With the uptick in in recent years of exorcism plots in horror, it's only natural that a documentary would emerge exploring the real-life world of demonic possession and those who combat the dark spirits. Whether one is a believer in the phenomenon or not, there is a certain draw to the idea of hellish minions installing themselves in human bodies and wreaking havoc on not only the possessed, but the people around them. Usually, though, they are more interested in the sensationalist or "myth-busting" aspects than really looking at the phenomenon. The Exorcist in the 21st Century doesn't quite get it right, but it's better than most and has some really strange and interesting parts that make it an intriguing piece.
Norwegian filmmakers Fredrik Horn Akselsen and Christian Falch first take us to meet Father José Antonio Fortea, one of the only exorcists in Europe. He's been exorcising spirits for decades all over the world and, now, he has travelled to Columbia to preach and to meet with Constanza, a woman who believes she has been possessed for over a decade. Between these two and interviews with Father Gabriel Amorth, the head exorcist for the Vatican, the film gives us plenty to think of from the perspective of the Catholic Church and the possessed herself.
I'm not one to believe in the reality of demonic possession, but I do believe in mankind's ability to make themselves believe in things that are strange and fantastical. This is shown in full force with Constanza, who genuinely thinks there is a demon inside of her. Whether from her own mind or through the power of suggestion, she displays her possession with absolute conviction and, when in the throes of the exorcism, she is horrifying (more on this later).
Akselsen and Falch aren't out to substantiate the phenomenon, though, and nor are they out to debunk it. They simply show, through the interviews and footage, what it looks like and how it works. It's refreshingly non-sensationalized and, while there is no balance of opinion (everybody onscreen firmly believes that possession is real), it's well-balanced between the business of exorcism and the strange effects it has on people. In this way, The Exorcist in the 21st Century is an interesting piece of work that both the religious and secular can appreciate for what it is: a slice of life that often goes unseen outside of the circles of the practitioners and the afflicted which, relatively speaking, are very small.
The Exorcist in the 21st Century arrives on DVD from Disinformation Company in a technically acceptable edition that features fantastic extra features. The 1.78:1 anamorphic image looks good enough, with a relatively crisp transfer that isn't very dynamic, but is fairly clear. The sound doesn't far quite as well, though. Purportedly a Dolby 5.1 mix, you can hardly tell, as there's almost no use of the rear speakers at any point. The levels on the dialog vary quite a bit, as well, which is especially frustrating on the soft-spoken Fortea. Luckily, his English (which is quite good) is always subtitled, so we can still tell what he says, but it's still unfortunate.
The extra features run nearly two hours and really make the disc. The first hour is a pair of extended interviews with our two Fathers. They're both interesting and enlightening about their philosophies, but they don't hold a candle to the final supplement. This 45-minute clip is the actual exorcism of Constanza with minimal edits. The possessed woman is disturbing enough in the brief clips that exist in the film, but stretched this long, it becomes frankly disturbing and difficult to watch. People might try to claim that she's acting during it, playing along with the ruse, but I say that, if that's true, get this woman in the pictures, because the pain, rage, and contortion of her face is very, very real. The disc is worth watching for this bit alone.
The Exorcist in the 21st Century isn't the first of its kind by any means, but it may be the most interesting and least sensationalist that I've seen. It isn't perfect; some perspective from non-religious types, psychologists and the like, would have been quite welcome, but it's a very decent documentary. The film itself aside, though, the exorcism footage is so harrowing that it makes the disc definitely something to watch.
Case dismissed. Get thee from my courtroom!
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