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The Exorcism of God (15)
Director: Alejandro Hidlago
Screenplay: Alejandro Hidlago, Santiago Fernandez Calvete
Starring: Maria Gabriela de Faria, Joseph Marcell, Will Beinbrink
Review: David Stephens
Just like any shark movie is going to have the finny shadow of Jaws hanging over it, any film with "Exor-something" in the title is going to have to contend with the big daddy horror of "The Exorcist". So it's got to have a hook to make it relevant and stand out from a (very) crowded market. Home media and streaming channels are awash with cheaply produced variations on possession flicks, with some relying on … *ahem* … "true-life" stories or splatty effects to grab the attention of genre fans. Here we have The Exorcism of God, which is a bit of a titular step-up from Emily Rose (2005) or Molly Hartley (2015) at least. It's an American-Venezuelan-Mexican horror film co-written and directed by Alejandro Hidalgo and better known as "El Exorcismo de Dios" overseas. Hidalgo also co-wrote and directed the criminally underrated and quite brilliant The House at the End of Time in 2013. With that intriguing title, the film has played well on the festival circuit (Fantastic Fest, Sitges, etc.) and is now available for general streaming on UK platforms, letting us take a look at the latest demon-purging techniques.
After two-and-half minutes of studio intros (seriously! This is getting way out of hand, people!), we arrive in Mexico in 2003. Father Peter Williams (Will Beinbrink) is summoned to help a recently possessed nun, Sister Magali (Iran Castillo). Despite the protestations of mentor priest Father Michael Lewis (Joseph Marcell from the original "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"!), he goes ahead and performs an exorcism. Doesn't go according to plan. Eighteen years later and Father Peter is still in Mexico, being all goodly and helping villagers with their crops and sick children. However, he is still haunted by aspects of the exorcism and cannot bring himself to fully perform a penance. The Vatican still thinks he's a top bloke, though. The past comes back with a vengeance when he is asked to investigate the supposed possession of a young woman incarcerated in prison. Called Esperanza (María Gabriela de Faría), she brings about a new set of dark challenges and temptations for the priest to overcome.
To be fair, TEOG has good production values and looks like some money was splashed on the filming (which is at least something of a novelty for many exorcism films these days). It also has an interesting concept that takes centre stage towards the film's last third. Additionally, it also has some nice creepy moments, which are driven by classic religious iconography and thematic twists. Watch out for the appearance of "characters", which according to the cast list, are "Possessed Jesus" and "Possessed Virgin", which takes religious horror to a logical level, but mostly just look damned creepy and wrong. You'll never pray in a dark room again. Probably. The antics of the possessed are performed enthusiastically by the actors, and you can expect profanities, body-bending, and lip-licking a-plenty.
You're probably expecting a big "but"… and we cannot lie. Yes, there are a few. Despite flirting with interesting ideas and twists on the expected plot developments, it all never amounts to much and feels pretty underwhelming for the most part. It also crosses the line quite heavily from "homage" to straightforward "rip-off" in the exorcist film stakes. Among the many references to the 1974 classic, we get…. *deep breath*… a priest standing in silhouette outside a street-lit house, pea-soup vomit spat at a character, a possessed female character tied to a bed, the self-doubting main character, an ageing senior exorcist with a heart problem, an innocent young character who may have their soul damned, and even a spider-walk. When the film isn't being blatantly "Exorcist"-ey, it becomes overly melodramatic and a little (unintentionally) comical. Possessed characters hiss and contort like vampires when confronted with a crucifix, and with their yellow-tinged eyes and pronounced brows, they look more like "Deadites" than diabolically-impaired innocents.
This underwhelming aspect is made more pronounced with some awkward lines like "I have never met her and my heart is already hers". And apart from the obligatory "The power of Christ compels you", most of the process apparently now consists of just yelling "I condemn you back to Hell" in a bad-tempered sort of way, so knowledge of Latin doesn't need to be a stumbling block anymore. It's kind of a shame because there are certain twists in the story that could've made for a more interesting movie. Instead, they just sort of happen and are glossed over before the next round of shouting-at-the-devil continues. There are elements of invention here, but other exorcism productions (such as The Last Exorcism, The Vatican Tapes, and The Exorcist TV series) have covered similar themes in a more satisfying and entertaining way.
If you're desperate for another trip to a cinematic damnation alley, this Mexican saga may tempt you, but you'll need to lower your expectations. It does have occasional moments that work, but it is mostly swamped by horror tropes and then fudges the main concepts at the conclusion. If there is an eternal way going on between good and evil, we humans are getting a pretty raw deal out of it. Anyway, any film that closes its credits with "God" heading the "Special Thanks to…" listing will perhaps not be everyone's cup of holy water.
Too many tropes and too much melodrama to be truly effective. TEOG has the seed of a good idea which is ultimately wasted during the final act when it's needed. Despite some good production values, it feels schlocky and a bit unsteady when it comes to religious horror. A couple of good moments, but just another possession film otherwise. Shame.
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