Dir. William Brent Bell, USA, 2012, 83 mins
Cast: Fernanda Andrade, Simon Quarterman, Evan Helmuth, Ionut Grama, Suzan Crowley, Bonnie Morgan, Pixie Le Knot
Review by Colin Dibben
There’s too much explaining and not enough potty-mouthed, possessed ranting in this exorcism mockumentary that derails halfway through.
On the evidence of this film, they must have no cameras in hell. That’s why demons come over here and get snapped: to gain self-image and a sense of self-worth. Maybe that’s why they often seem reticent about revealing their identity: they aren’t too sure themselves.
1989: Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley) phones the police and tells them she’s killed three people in her house. It turns out they were attempting to exorcise her and died in the attempt. The police turn up with a camera. 2009: Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade) goes to visit her mum in a psychiatric hospital inRome. Isabella has a camera. The hospital has lots of CCTV cameras. She cuts a deal with Michael (Ionut Grama) a film-maker, to record her journey. Michael is a professional, so he has lots of cameras. InRome, Isabella meets two young priests, Father Ben (Simon Quarterman) and Father David (Evan Helmut), who perform illegal exorcisms. They are interested in the intersection of science and religion, so they have lots of cameras too. They decide to help Isabella find out what is wrong with her mother.
You can’t beat a good exorcism scene – all that thrashing about, talking dirty and sudden extreme violence – all of which are done pretty well here. You get to hear a middle-aged woman say ‘skullf*ck’, which is always nice, and you get to see Rosa (Bonnie Morgan) and stunt double Pixie Le Knot contort themselves in eye-watering fashion. Susan Crowley is scary: she seems to be channeling serial killer Aileen Wuornos as much as Beelzebub; and it’s nice to see attention paid to the differences between severe mental illness and possession – there are four symptoms of the latter that differentiate it from the former, so we are told. In fact, aren’t possessed people brilliant? They’re like really manipulative, really aggressive, neighbourhood nutters. But there’s nowhere near enough of them in this.
The really big problem with the film is the way it uses the mockumentary format. The problem isn’t the shaky cameras, nor even the incredible plethora of cameras introduced to give us visibility of key scenes. It’s the tedious false naturalism that comes with the mockumentary territory: the endless talking to camera about other characters and their motivations; explaining everything in the mistaken belief that it doesn’t count as ‘on the nose’ dialogue in a documentary; the hysterical acting that is supposed to suggest the intensity of unmediated events. It’s all so wordy, talky and boring – as demoniac Maria herself points out when she’s having a go at the priests: ‘All you do is talk!’.
The narrative is badly fractured by Maria’s disappearance from the film at around the halfway point. After that, everything becomes way too obvious, from a silly baptism scene to the too-sudden ending which threatens a sequel. Finally, in traditional horror films, the teenager has sex, hears a noise, goes downstairs and gets killed because credibility isn’t an issue. But if you make credibility an issue – by using the naturalism format – then you can’t have exorcists wondering what’s going on, when someone flies around the room talking about sucking coc*s in hell. I mean, it makes you wonder whether they chose the right profession.
Unless you’re a total horror fan, give this a miss. You’ll have more fun being shouted at by street drinkers.