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Stephen Billington as Christopher

Doug Bradley as Father Ennis

Sophie Vavasseur as Emma

Tommy Bastow as Alex

Richard Felix as John

Jo-Anne Stockham as Lucy

Directed by Manual Carballo


Aside from the occasional thrilling burst of innovation, the horror genre thrives on formula and repetition. For proof of that, just count the number of slasher films, haunted house films, zombie movies, or vampire films in your DVD collection (and anticipate the many more yet to come). Some might knock long horror’s history of imitation as representing a dearth of new ideas but I think that a large part of the fun in following the genre comes from seeing filmmakers of succeeding eras riffing on familiar scenarios – sometimes badly, sometimes brilliantly. My interest might wax and wane as these sub-genres continue to be revisited but it never becomes fully exhausted. Tell me that a new zombie film is on the way, or a new slasher film, and I’m there. Exorcism films, though, no. Those I feel like I’m done keeping up with.

With most sub-genres in horror, fans can point to a good number of quality examples. Exorcism films…not so much. I mean you’ve got The Exorcist (1973) and then, what, exactly? Tales of Satan-worshipping cultists, ok. Then we can talk about movies like The Devil Rides Out (1968), The Devil’s Rain (1975), and Race With The Devil (1975). Even Rosemary’s Baby (1968) falls into that category, I’d argue. But if we’re talking strictly about movies in which a demon – or Satan himself – possesses an innocent soul, I’m hard-pressed to come up with anything outstanding. Even the better Exorcist wannabes (like 2005’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose) always feel half-baked.

But, because The Exorcist is one of the greatest horror films of all time, filmmakers will continue to try and do their own take on it. Personally, I think it’s time to give it up. Last year, some cited The Last Exorcism as being a smartly done exorcist thriller but its good performances couldn’t compensate for a poorly thought-out script. Now arriving from Filmax, the Spanish production company that brought us [REC] (2007) and [REC] 2 (2009), comes the awkwardly named Exorcismus – another entry into the exorcism sub-genre that just doesn’t cut it.

Sophie Vavasseur stars as Emma, a sulky fifteen-year-old living in the UK, longing for freedom and resentful towards her parent’s decision to keep her home-schooled. When she begins suffering from violent seizures, her mother Lucy (Jo Anne Stockham) and her father John (Richard Felix) first get her checked out by physicians but when doctor’s tests reveal nothing, they send Emma to a psychiatrist.

When her first session ends with the psychiatrist suffering a fatal stroke, Emma isn’t blamed but it’s clear that her problems won’t be solved on a psychiatrist’s couch. Lucy’s brother Christopher (Stephen Billington) is a priest with previous (and unsuccessful) experience performing an exorcism on a teenage girl but eventually they’re forced to turn to Christopher to help cast out whatever’s taken root in Emma.

The first half of Exorcismus will be a test of patience (or faith) for most viewers. It’s devoid of shocks and, worse, Emma is portrayed unsympathetically as a passive, pouty teen, her brother Mark (Lazzaro Oertli) is a stereotypical bratty kid brother and their parents are similarly unendearing with Lucy’s control-freak ways and John’s milquetoast sense of acquiescence. These are not people anyone is really going to want to spend time with. Add to that the sluggish pace and director Manuel Carballo’s irritating habit of continually moving the camera (you can find steadier camerawork in any faux-doc) and you’ve got a movie that will send many looking for alternate entertainment.

For those that stick it out, however, Exorcismus minimally rewards one’s interest with a development in the later half that brings an intriguing wrinkle to the standard formula. Is it enough to recommend the movie, though? Unless you’re such a diehard fan of exorcist films that you’ve made it your mission to see every last movie where a possessed kid rolls their eyes into the back of their head and talks in a guttural growl (or if you’re such a fan of actor Doug Bradley that’s it’s worth sitting through any film for a barely-there cameo from the former Pinhead), then no. Exorcismus brings a sense of intelligence to familiar territory a little more successfully than The Last Exorcism did but it’s a real slog to get through for a very minor payoff.

At least in the ‘70s, in the wake of The Exorcist, films that tried to capture the audience of Friedkin’s film were out to make full-on exploitation films. Say what you will about movies like Abby and Beyond the Door (both 1974) but they did their best to shock and scare viewers. Movies like The Last Exorcism and now Exorcismus, however, act as though conveying tedium is a badge of honor. Forget comparing badly to The Exorcist. Movies like Exorcismus are starting to make me a fan of Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977). I’ll take bat-shit over boring any day.