Demon Possession Movies in 2010 Still Haven’t Caught Up to 1973

Main Cast: Sophie Vavasseur

Director: Manuel Carballo

Exorcismus posterMy three favorite types of horror movies are ghost stories, alien stories, and possession stories. So it was a given from the start that I would be watching the 2010 Spanish/British co-production Exorcismus (released as The Possession of Emma Evans in the US).

Written by David Munoz (The Devil’s Backbone) and directed by Manuel Carballo (The Returned), this one tells the story of 15-year-old Emma (Sophie Vavasseur, Resident Evil: Apocalypse) and her trials when she begins to suspect she’s been possessed. Her brainy, home-schooling parents scoff at the notion, telling Emma there’s no such thing as the devil, but her father has a thought that maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to see Emma’s delusion through, if for no other reason than because maybe the “placebo” of an exorcism will convince Emma she’s “cured.”

So they enlist the aid of Emma’s uncle, an excommunicated priest who was let go after a girl he was exorcising died. The uncle insists on videotaping the events, just to cover his own ass, and rightfully so, and it’s in the middle of one of the sessions when Emma’s father comes into the room that they realize this isn’t all in her head. Something supernatural is definitely wrong here.

Unfortunately, as we learn in act three, it’s not something that just HAPPENED to her. There was a very dark plan in play here from the beginning, and when Emma realizes the trap she’s been led into, she doesn’t take it well.

Exorcismus held my interest pretty well for the hour and forty minutes it ran, but I won’t say it was edge of my seat viewing by any means. I liked it and probably wouldn’t mind seeing it again, but it was hardly as engrossing as another possession movie from 1973 starring a certain thirteen-year-old Linda Blair.

Carballo has brought to life some pretty intriguing takes on the possession myth that add a new flavor to what is, usually, a pretty bland and oft-repeated idea, and Munoz has crafted a strong plot with a shocking reveal at the end, but for the most part there are just too many recognizable beats to allow this story, or this movie, to shoot to the head of the class in this subgenre.

Vavasseur plays the part of Emma very well, I have to give her credit, but even at nearly 20, as she was when she filmed this movie, she wasn’t as convincing as Blair was decades earlier. Maybe it’s unfair to even pose such a comparison, but let’s face it: every possession movie is going to be measure against The Exorcist. It’s just the way it is. And I believed Linda Blair was possessed by the devil. I believed Sophie Vavasseur was acting in a movie in which her character was possessed by the devil. I admit she got it about as right as could be in a movie that’s not The Exorcist, but it still fell just a bit short for me.

The effects here were minimal and that was disappointing. I also think that’s part of the reason it wasn’t as convincing as I’d hoped it would be. I don’t know if it’s because the makers of possession movies have seen The Exorcist and think THAT’S how it should be done, but we don’t want to repeat someone else’s movie; we want to make our OWN, and in doing so they always manage to be underwhelming, or what, but that’s definitely how it comes across. I’ve never seen another possession movie that had even a fraction of the balls The Exorcist did in the makeup and special effects department. And in the 40+ years since, that lack of conviction has only served to keep this subgenre held back so every movie that comes out since then feels like a weak attempt at something that should be a no-brainer. And I’ve seen a TON of horror movies, I know there are so many special effects people out there who could take the concept of being possessed by a demon and make an amazing makeup out of it. Why aren’t they?

But that being said, I did enjoy Exorcismus, even if the title kept making me think of a demon-possessed Santa Claus bringing haunted toys to children all over the world. It’s not the best possession movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s easily in the top five, and it’s miles above most of the other dreck I’ve seen out there. Definitely worth a watch, for sure.

–C. Dennis Moore


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