Judge Gordon Sullivan's getting an exorcism. His demons need a workout.
There are some things best kept secret…
The Catholic Church may be a couple of thousand years old at this point, but it's trying to keep up with the times. For instance, the Church recognizes that things like seizures are more likely to be caused by mental illness than an infestation of demons. That's a good thing, because some of the signs of possession—lack of appetite, interest in the occult—seem to be a normal parts of growing up these days. Luckily, parents don't have to pack up their teenagers to send them off to the nearest monastery. Instead, there are more serious signs to consider, like sudden coldness in the room or the ability to speak languages previously unknown. Certainly, whether you're a believer or not, speaking in tongues and all that is a bad sign. It's just such a concern that Exorcismus hinges on. A young girl, rebelling against her parents in typical teenage fashion, may or may not be possessed (although the title gives a pretty big clue in that department). Fright fans are left with a film that's long on speculation and short on actual scares.
Emma (Sophie Vavasseur, Resident Evil: Apocalypse) is a young girl with a simple wish: instead of being homeschooled by her rationally minded parents, Emma wants to go to school with her friends. When she takes some drugs with her friends and says some spooky stuff, weird things begin to happen. She does things without realizing it (like cutting herself, or almost drowning her little brother). Initially, her parents write it off as teenage rebellion, but as her behavior worsens, Emma seeks out an exorcism. That exorcism is secretly videotaped, and we get to see exactly what it takes to fight the devil.
First, I have some serious problems with Exorcismus, because it seems to suggest that psychedelic drugs are a tool of the devil. Humanity has been altering its consciousness with these substances pretty much throughout its history. While they're not something to be taken lightly, they're hardly a way to let the devil in. Even if I wasn't inclined to find drugs more benign than that, it also makes me think that if a person took some psychedelic drugs and then started acting funny, that psychotic break would be the obvious thing to look for. I am very skeptical that the Church, given its newfound desire to avoid confusing mental illness with possession, would be onboard with an exorcism in this situation, even if, as is the case in the movie, young Emma can't bring herself to touch sacred objects.
Maybe that's picking nits. If so, there are other, better reasons to object to Exorcismus. The most obvious is that it is terribly paced. Back when The Exorcist premiered and possession films weren't done to death, it was okay to toy with the audience and let them wonder if the main character was in fact possessed by one of Satan's horde. Not so much these days. In fact, the film's original Spanish title translates to The Possession of Emma Evans, so it's not like there's a whole lot of suspense about whether Emma is indeed possessed or not. That would be fine if the film didn't wait 45 minutes to actually get to any exorcism action. What we're left with is 45 minutes of a rebellious teen we know little about being kinda creepy. The film tries to spice things up with a bit of nonlinearity (flashing back, for instance, to Emma's drug use) and some funky camera tricks, but that can't stand in for the fact that the audience is completely onboard with Emma's possession before the credits roll, making the first 45 minutes a veritable snooze fest.
When the film finally does get to the actual exorcism stuff, it does a pretty decent job with the stock ideas, including lots of incantations and curses. The violence level also goes up appreciably, but after that first half the film has dug a hole so deep that not even horror favorite Doug Bradley as a priest can get the movie back on solid ground.
Despite its pretty tremendous flaws, Exorcismus gets a solid DVD release. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is pretty clean, and the film's use of digital effects (including changes to overall color) looks good. Black levels are fairly deep and consistent, and I didn't notice any serious compression problems. The 5.1 audio sticks mainly to the center channel, but during some of the more demon-oriented moments the surrounds kick in a bit for atmosphere. Extras include a short making-of that's mostly behind-the-scenes footage, and the film's trailer.
Fans of possession films will likely get something out of Exorcismus, even if they've seen it all before. The acting and execution of the exorcism bits is above average, even if the rest of the movie drags those scenes down.
Exorcismus is just another exorcism flick, with little to distinguish it from any other. Fans of the genre might find something to love, but everybody else would be better off (re)watching The Exorcist.
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