Relatively low-budget horror flicks are a dime a dozen in Hollywood. Since most of them turn out to be ho-hum affairs, viewers often miss out on the few good ones that are made too. Exorcismus (Spanish title: ‘La Posesion de Emma Evans’) is a classic example of such a more-than-decent supernatural flick. Director Manuel Carballo shot to prominence with ‘The Returned’ – but 4 years back, he was a relatively unknown figure. In fact, ‘Exorcismus’ was his very first attempt at making a full-length film. This was one mighty impressive debut effort!
One of the best things about ‘Exorcismus’ is that, it goes straight to the point – without wasting too much time in ‘building up the tension’. In the opening shot, we find the clearly disturbed ‘Emma Evans’ (Sophie Vavasseur) slashing her palm (that’s right, the palm – not the wrists) – with droplets of blood staining the floor. As the sequence ends, the opening credits appear – after which the narrative actually starts.
Fast-forward a few weeks, and we find ‘Emma’ (with a heavily bandaged hand, but otherwise looking perfectly normal), playing video games with her younger brother ‘Mark’ (Lazarro Oertli Ortiz). The two kids – ‘Emma’ is 15, in case you were wondering – have a caring dad in ‘John’ (Richard Felix) and a slightly overprotective mother in ‘Lucy’ (Jo Anne Sotckham). The latter has homeschooled ‘Emma’ till now, and keeps scoffing at the idea of sending her daughter to high school. According to ‘Lucy’, homeschooled kids turn out to be better individuals. ‘Emma’, however, desperately wants to be ‘normal’ – like her cousins ‘Alex’ (Tommy Bastow) and ‘Sarah’ (Emma Reynolds).
Time for the chills to set in – for which happy family in a horror flick can remain happy? ‘Emma’ starts having sudden fits, and there are periods when she completely blanks out. At times, she unwittingly almost causes physical harm to her terrified family members. Visits to psychiatrists prove futile, and ‘Emma’s parents finally are forced to seek the help of ‘Chris’ (Stephen Billington) – a suspended priest, who also happens to be ‘Emma’s maternal uncle. ‘Chris’ arrives at the Evans’ home – and his daily exorcism sessions start. What no one is aware of though is, ‘Chris’ has another, far more sinister motive for trying to reach out to the demon inside ‘Emma’. What is it that ‘Chris’ wants, and will ‘Emma’ be able to become normal once again? Grab a DVD copy of the movie, and find out for yourself!
‘Exorcismus’ never sets out to scare the viewers out of their wits. Instead, Manuel Carballo focuses on building up the tensions, through a smooth narrative. There are stereotypes galore in the movie – but each of them is presented in a novel, refreshing manner. Whenever you see the eyeball-less eyes of the possessed ‘Emma’ or hear her speaking in others’ voices – you feel more intrigued than frightened. In a way, the director had set out to make a horror and mystery movie rolled into one – and he did a masterful job of it.
Unlike most other fairly low-budget ghost movies, ‘Exorcismus’ is not propped up by cheap thrills like violent gore fests and/or more than ample skin show from the actors. The fact that it actually has a tightly-knit storyline helps, as do the steady performances of the lead actors. Sophie Vavasseur, as the troubled ‘Emma’, is first-rate. She flits between the roles of a normal girl wanting to break free, and a menacing, possessed being, with nonchalant ease. As the movie progresses and the demons inside her grow stronger, the changes in Sophie’s face make-up appear perfectly normal.
Richard Felix, as ‘Emma’s dad, does a fair job in ‘Exorcismus’. He portrays the helplessness and despair of a father, as his daughter is being torn apart by something unknown, very well. The scene where he is coaxed by his possessed daughter to open the latter’s chains – when he knows perfectly well that something is amiss – stands out. Essaying the role of ‘Lucy Evans’, Jo Anne Stockham is just about okay. She is bogged down by a slightly half-baked characterization. Viewers are never told why she is so vehemently against sending ‘Emma’ to a public school. Emma Reynolds and Tommy Bastow, as ‘Sarah’ and ‘Jake’ respectively, have been made up as perfect examples of Gen Y teenagers – tattoos, body piercings, painted hair and all.
But the real surprise package of the movie is Stephen Billington, as the priest with a mysterious past. He has failed once in an attempt to exorcise a young girl, and is apparently determined to not repeat the mistake for his own niece. Until the final, and completely unforeseen, twist arrives – viewers will never be able to gauge what his actual propaganda is. ‘Chris’ connects with the demon inside ‘Emma’, but ultimately has to pay the price for underestimating its strength.
Not everything is hunky-dory about ‘Exorcismus’ though. The climax is a bit of a let down – with ‘John’ and Chris’ grappling with a knife, and a demonic ‘Emma’ instructing the normal ‘Emma’ to finish her entire family off. Another sequence, where, in a tranced state, ‘Emma’ tries to kiss ‘Sarah’ was also unnecessary. Fans who like ‘edge-of-the-seat’ moments continuously might also feel a tad disappointed. Whether ‘Emma’ actually caused his brother ‘Mark’s fatal accident is also left open to viewers’ interpretation.
Horror movies require crisp editing. Manuel Carvallo and Guillermo de la Cal win brownie points in this regard. The screenplay never meanders, and barring a couple of scenes here and there, the movie keeps viewers interested at all times. Karol Tornaria avoids the temptation of going overboard with the makeups – another common bane in many recent horror flicks. Javier Salmones’ camera expertly hovers in and around the Evans’ residence – and together with Zacarias M. de la Riva’s background score – it contributes to the ominous feel about the movie.
There are two absolutely standout scenes in ‘Exorcismus’. The first comes half an hour into the movie, when ‘Emma’, under a spell of possession, holds a pail of boiling water precariously above her mother’s head. Credit to the director for not making the accident actually happen – for that would have ruined the suspense. The other comes soon after, when ‘Emma’ (possessed again – no surprises there!) holds down her brother ‘Mike’ under water in the bathtub. You almost feel the suffocation!
‘Exorcismus’, somewhat like ‘Insidious’ (2010) is all about the fears of uncertainty regarding what might happen next, instead of in-your-face horror movie cliches. Director Manuel Carballo might have made the movie a little more frightening – but as it is, ‘Exorcismus’ more than matches up to supernatural flicks boasting of bigger budgets and more known star casts.
For those who are wondering – yes, there are a couple of scenes showing the suspended body of ‘Emma’ (every possession movie has them). There is a mirror trick as well, although it comes when the movie is within its final ten minutes. None of these scenes will scare the hell out of you – but they have splendid recall value.
As I stated right at the beginning, I have not yet seen Carballo’s ‘The Returned’. The man did a great job with ‘Exorcismus’, and the later movie is now right on top of my ‘wish-to-watch’ list!