This dark tale of supernatural possession from director Manuel Carballo combines classic horror with riveting family drama. Fifteen-year-old Emma (Sophie Vavasseur, Resident Evil: Apocalypse) is going through the growing pains of teen life, believing her parents don't understand her and longing for the independence that's still a few years away. When Emma falls prey to a series of seizures that leave doctors and psychologists baffled, her parents summon a priest (Doug Bradley) to help the girl. But what lurks inside Emma is far more dangerous than they could have ever imagined. Exorcismus mounts to a pitch of horror from which you won't be able to turn away.
Also known as “The Possession of Emma Evans,” Exorcismus suffers from being being another one of the dozens and dozens of films to trod the same ground that The Exorcist carved out and defined. This film's approach to separating itself from the pack is to focus on the suburban banality of the nuclear family and constantly-moving, intrusive camerawork. That's not enough to distance it from the tropes of the pubescent girl thrashing in seizures, speaking in ominous voices, and generally expressing full Regan-itis.
The most disturbing part for many Exorcist audiences are the medical sequences, which are disposed of here in the opening credits, right down to the spinal tap. Since we can't separate it from the rest of the pack, let's look at what Exorcismus does right or wrong on it's own terms.
Emma Evans' awkward adolescence gets only moreso when she's stricken with unexplainable seizures and behavior issues- at least those beyond simple petulance. Before long, she's acting out under hypnosis (well, not exactly so much as the doctor drops dead), hallucinating cockroaches, and levitating. Coupled with her tendency to try and kill family members, has her turning to Uncle Chris, a priest suspended for his involvement in a teenager's fatal exorcism. Before long, he's got Emma strapped to a chair and all but spewing pea soup.
Showy practical effects and subtle CGI keep things more dread-filled than dreadful, but can't distract us from jumping ahead in our “Exorcism Movie 101” textbooks. Those effects are also more subtle than some of the performances. (The father may as well have wandered in from The Room in a couple scenes.) In a supporting part as as Father Chris' superior is Doug Bradley, wearing his history as Pinhead in Hellraiser as if in some cross-genre exchange program.
There's a death which moves things way out of the comfort zone, followed by a few twists in the last third that make this story it's own, but the devil is only in those details. After all, it's the mundane world and some petty choices destroying this family and their friends, not a big, red demon. Exploring character motivations and family tragedy sadly doesn't stand up to the flashy storytelling and showy possession bits.
Exorcismus is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with English 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio and subtitles in Spanish and English SDH. Along with the trailers for this and other IFC releases, a 17 minute making-of featurette is included.
There's comfort in the familiar symbols of religion, and there's comfort in genre film. Exorcismus brings both together in a possessed teenage girl and her fairly normal nuclear family. A mix of showy devil possession and the genuine horrors of everyday tragedies, there's nothing new here. However, it's a well-crafted watch with some strong moments in the last third.