Boredom lies in Judge Joel Pearce's soul.
Evil lies in her soul.
Despite some sinister looking cover art, Requiem is really more interested in the true experiences of a girl caught between a strict religious upbringing and new understanding of disease. It's certainly a different take on the story of Anneliese Michel, but one that North American audiences may find less entertaining.
Facts of the Case
Michaela (Sandra Hüller, Madonnas) is excited to head off to college. It will be a welcome opportunity to escape her strict parents, especially since it's been a year since she's suffered an attack from her crippling epilepsy. Her mother (Imogen Kogge, The Wedding Party) thinks it's a bad idea, but her father (Burghard Klauβner, Good Bye Lenin) encourages this as a step in the right direction. It's not long before Michaela starts having seizures again, though, accompanied by strange visions and voices. Is it epilepsy or could it be something supernatural? Michaela begs her priest to consider the possibility that she's possessed, but he is afraid to even consider it. After all, she's always been such a good girl…
That's all starting to change, though, as she suffers through her horrible fate. She wants relief, whether at the hands of the Catholic church or in the arms of her new boyfriend. One way or another, this story was always set to end in tragedy.
For a North American audience, it's hard to analyze Requiem without comparing it to The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Both tell the tragic, mysterious story of Anneliese Michel, a young German woman who died after a series of exorcism attempts in 1976. Most of us are already familiar with the American production, which transplanted the story to America and centered on the court trial that found Michel's priests and parents guilty of her death. Requiem takes a very different approach to the story, perhaps because it was produced closer to home. Rather than zeroing in on the court trial that took place after her death, this production is more concerned with her experiences and the relationships she had with the people around her.
Director Hans-Christian Schmid makes another key choice that fundamentally alters how we understand the story. In The Exorcism of Emily Rose, we see the visions and hear the voices that haunted her. We're hard pressed to understand the tale in anything but supernatural terms, since we witness the events from Emily's perspective. In Requiem, however, we never get to see what Michaela sees. Because of this, we are forced to consider other possibilities. She is, after all, a severe epileptic who also shows clear signs of depression. She had an unreasonably strict religious upbringing with an über-bitch of a mother and an enabling father. Instead of a religious mystery, Requiem can just as easily been seen as a social tragedy, revealing how archaic Catholic ideas and smalltown superstition can lead to unnecessary pain and suffering.
Of course, there's a reason that The Exorcism of Emily Rose chose to show everything. It's simply more exciting that way. Requiem often plays more like a TV biopic, which is sometimes not that compelling. It's also a cautious production, perhaps because it's a bit closer to home and some of the people affected by the tragedy are still alive. Considering the grim, gothic feel of the cover—I have no idea who the robed man is—many viewers will be expecting something grittier. They'll be disappointed by this slow-moving character portrait. That doesn't make it a bad film, but it's also not as risky as it could be. It is unwilling to take a real stand on the issues, and so fails to reach a satisfying conclusion. Fortunately, the actors deliver excellent work, so we feel attached to the characters even when the film is not as engaging as it should be.
The DVD is also a bit of a disappointment. The image quality is mediocre, as is too often the case with European films. It shows evidence of a PAL to NTSC conversion. It also suffers from washed out colors and weak black level. More than anything, it just looks bland. The sound is better, with clear dialogue and subtle use of the surrounds in the German 5.1 track. There are no extras on the disc at all.
If you are a fan of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, it may be worth renting Requiem to get a different perspective on the story. It's heartbreaking to watch the pain that Michaela goes through in her quest for peace, especially with so much ambiguity as to the nature of her pain. There's so much superstition in the world. This film highlights the dangers of either dismissing the supernatural out of hand or embracing it too readily. More than anything, the film truly is a requiem for Anneliese Michel, and a reminder that our entertainment so often comes from sad, tragic truth. Horror fans may want to pass by this offering, though, as they will find little here that satisfies the visceral urges that push us towards that brand of entertainment.
Not guilty, though I wish the producers had gotten off the fence.
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