NOVEMBER 5, 2011
Once again, I have to thank some of my pals for seeing a movie before me and trashing it, lowering my expectations enough to discover that the movie was actually pretty decent. The worst thing about Exorcismus (original title: The Possession of Emma Evans) is that it follows the structure of The Exorcist a bit too closely at times (even bringing in an acting vet in the 3rd act to assist), but there's enough changes to the story to forgive the sense of deja vu.
For starters, Emma is a few years older than poor Regan, and thus the initial "is she possessed or not?" section of the film is a bit more suspenseful, as some of her behavior seems to just be a troubled girl acting out against her parents. Regan was a sweet, innocent girl, so when she got possessed the change in her behavior was immediately obvious. But here, Emma's a typically sullen brat, so when she tells her mother that she hates her, it's hard to tell if she's just being a jerk or if the devil is speaking through her. And like with Emily Rose, they toy with the idea that it may be mental illness for a while; we see two versions of key scenes, one with what Emma thinks is happening, one with what is REALLY happening. For example, she thinks she's just harmlessly (if somewhat unusually) tickling her little brother as he takes a bath, but she's actually trying to drown him.
And that's not the only technical matter worth commenting on; I was also quite impressed with the film's overall visual style, which resembled the Friday Night Lights TV show more than any typical horror movie. The movie was shot all hand-held, with very little standard coverage - the camerawork almost seemed improvised. Even during the few FX scenes (Emma floating), the camera had that "live" feel, which of course makes the visual effects work more difficult but also more impressive (as opposed to locking the camera down to make things easier), and also becomes more believable - if not for the scope visual, one could walk in on a given scene and assume this was a first person/found footage movie.
It's also unusually quiet, something I can appreciate even in a bad modern horror movie, since so many of them are intent on scaring the audience with nothing more than loud noises or music stings every couple of minutes. Music is used sparingly, and as it's a very talky movie (like just about every movie of its type, including Friedkin's), it's refreshing to just take in the conversations without bells and whistles. On that note, I was actually surprised to find that it was in English, given that it was a Spanish production.
On the other hand, sadly, it doesn't really offer anything new. There's a couple of third act surprises of the downer variety, but it follows the basic template and ends pretty much how you think it will from the first minute or so. Given the surprise/huge success of Emily Rose a few years back (75 million! More than any horror film this year save Paranormal 3), you'd think there would have been a revival of exorcism movies, but apart from The Last Exorcism (which was more a response to the success of found footage films), there haven't been many at all, nor have any of them been any good - this is easily the best of those, but it doesn't really make much of an impression on the storytelling level. The slow pace is also a hurdle - I personally didn't mind it (I was actually surprised to see how QUICKLY they got to the first exorcism scene), but today's audiences don't have much of an attention span. The DVDverdict reviewer*, in fact, was seemingly angry that he had to wait a whole 45 minutes to get to the "action", as if they should have been spewing pea soup before the opening credits were through. If anything, I thought it dragged a bit AFTER that point - once the priest got involved it should have picked up a bit, but the girl still carries on a lot of her normal life, slowing things down some.
It also fails to use Doug Bradley in any significant way; in fact it almost seems like they were trying to hide his contribution. For one thing he's billed as "Douglas" Bradley, which I've never seen in any of his other films. Also, even though he's the biggest genre star in the film by far, his credit isn't set apart with an "And" or even a "With" as is tradition for this sort of thing; it's unceremoniously buried in between two other names. At any rate, his role in the film is very brief, and mostly in flashback, centered around the obligatory "previous exorcism that went wrong" that serves as the motivator for the main priest, played by Stephen Billington. In fact, it's the sort of largely unnecessary role that horror icons usually play in these sort of things for seemingly no other reason than to add some name value to the film, making his "hidden" billing all the more puzzling.
Final note - also leading me to believe that the film was in Spanish was the fact that "Exorcismus" is Spanish for Exorcism (it's also probably the name of at least one metal band). Certainly a much better title than yet another "The possession/exorcism of (character's name)" moniker, but I wonder how many folks have skipped the movie thinking it was in a foreign language?
What say you?
*Looked it up to see if there were any bonus features - apparently just a making of piece. Wouldn't have minded listening to a commentary on this one.