The multi-layered premise of this Spanish possession piece is intriguing; can the plot strands combine effectively? Mark Lee finds out.
Exorcismus presents a tantalising prospect for horror devotees; it’s a Spanish film (the filmmakers are apparently headed by the producers of the delightfully edgy Spanish documentary-style shocker, Rec) but the producers have opted to use a partially British cast and supposedly British location to portray a tale of modern day possession, pivoting around a stroppy teenage girl whose mental state seems confused enough for the ‘possession’ to be a particularly acute strain of old fashioned teenage angst.
The errant teenager in question is Emma (the title of the movie in America is being adjusted to the far less satisfactory The Possession of Emma Evans, which surely leads to inevitable comparisons or even confusion with The Exorcism of Emily Rose; Exorcismus is a far preferable title), and the various strands of plot revolving around the troubled teen have the potential to combine and produce something intriguing.
There’s the suffocating structure of Emma’s upbringing (she’s home schooled by her parents), her subsequent thirst for freedom and liberty, the seeming parental favoritism towards her amiable younger brother, the murky shadows hanging over priestly uncle, Christopher, the confusing struggle for a sexual identity, and the impenetrable barriers between the generations; the possession of Emma is an ambitious attempt at a striking metaphor for the turbulent metamorphosis from youngster to adult, and for this reason the well shot exorcism drama should feel somewhat invigorating in what’s an often limited subgenre.
Yet somehow, the disparate strands of what could have been a cleverly multi-layered drama remain frustratingly disconnected, and as a result we’re never fully drawn into the unfolding diabolical chaos, even with the added dynamic of some unexpected plot twists. Nothing here is a complete disaster, yet no elements prove weighty enough for us to forgive deficiencies in other areas. The script doesn’t provide sufficient exploration of the most intriguing plot threads, some of the performances are below convincing (perhaps most problematic is Stephen Billington’s portrayal of Christopher, whose quiet, self-assured piety translates as a weakness of character, and a lack of the conviction one would expect from the character), and the tortured howls of the possessed Emma, whilst acted well enough by young Sophie Vavasseur, lack the required shock value, and can unfortunately present on the fringes of comedy at some points. That said, there are some enjoyable moments; the levitation scenes are generally well done, and there is occasional demonic drama during some of the possessed moments.
Exorcismus is a brave effort, and there’s no suggestion that the overall presentation isn’t competent and watchable. Yet with some recent competition that fired a breath of fresh hellfire into the lungs of the exorcism subgenre, your thirst for another terrifying onslaught of possession shenanigans may not be sated, because the resultant output of Exorcismus is a feeling of missed opportunity, and something approaching indifference.
Exorcismus is encoded for region 2, and benefits from a high quality transfer. The colours, which look largely unfiltered, prove strong and true, with complexions being reproduced with accuracy and clarity. The darks are solid, definition is strong, and it all looks rather splendid in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, so there’s never any issue with visibility of the action. If there is reason for Exorcismus to lack credibility, the presentation of the visuals is not it.
My guess (and I may of course be mistaken) is that the movie is shot partially in England, and partially in Spain (or one of Spain’s neighbours). There’s something about the wide streets, the non-standard street lamps, the solid line down the middle of the road, and the architecturally impressive housing that leads one to believe that some of this may be located in a thinly veiled Spain. I take no issue with this approach in itself, yet it’s sometimes difficult to believe that the sunny climes and beautiful surroundings are products of Blighty (although there are some shots of London streets, buses, and the like). Don’t hate me.
English subtitles are optional.
The audio options are 2.0 stereo, or 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound. The presentation of the sound is of a similar quality to the visuals, producing an engaging spectrum of sound with no distortion or unwanted noise to speak of. The bass rumbles are satisfying, and the sharp snap of a door slamming is reproduced with sufficient accuracy as to make you jump effectively.
My only complaint regarding the soundtrack is that whilst the thumps and demonic moans are reproduced with substantial depth and rumble, the accompanying dialogue can sometimes prove a little too delicate to be clear. It’s perhaps fine if you can really crank up the sound, but I found that I had to make small adjustments to the volume after the action sequences to catch the quieter parts of the soundtrack with the appropriate clarity. It’s a small gripe, and perhaps only an issue if you have your bass and/or sub set high.
It’s disappointing to note that there aren’t any extras to speak of, save for a collection of trailers, which are Shell Shock, Red, The Hole, and Mr Nice.
Intriguing plot ideas and a giant metaphor for teenage angst form an exciting premise for this Spanish possession movie, yet the translation through the actors and locations seems to be missing the filmic glue that could have made this a substantial contribution to the subgenre. Despite our expectations being left unfulfilled, it may be worth a watch for the ardent fans of exorcism horror, though fans who do connect with the disconnected strands of storyline will be disappointed with the absence of extras.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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