THE EXORCISM OF GOD Review: The Power of Evil Compels Them
Father Peter Williams works in a Mexican orphanage. He is beloved by his flock and he does what he can for them with the limited resources available to him. However, Father Williams harbors a dark secret. Something happened when he performed an exorcism unshepherded eighteen years ago. His past comes back to haunt him as another possession has happened in the local prison. Past and present collide and Williams calls on an old friend to help him take on this evil intruder and protect his faith at the same time.
Venezuelan director Alejandro Hidalgo makes a return to the director’s chair after a lengthy absence for his sophomore feature film, the possession horror flick The Exorcism of God. Together with Sangre Vurdalak director Santiago Fernández Calvete from Argentina Hidalgo has written a horror flick that is at times a bit provocative, scary, and gross while exploring themes of guilt and shame. They’ve created dilemmas and conflict within the soul and consciousness as Williams’ faith is of course tested. The revelations and discoveries about him and what happened during that first exorcism come along throughout the story and may provide some level of surprise throughout.
There are some very decent jump scares in the build towards the big exorcism finale; we imagine they could be recognized as some of the best of the year. Clearly a student of the art of the scare, Hidalgo has a firm grasp of timing, tension and impact. We want to say that we wanted a lot more of those scarier moments in between exorcisms. However, we can with certainty that after watching The Exorcism of God you’ll never look at a crucifix of Christ the same, ever again. This is one of those rare moments when you’ll scream, ‘Jesus Christ!!!” out loud and not held accountable for saying your lord’s name in vain. Seize it! Nor would you ever trust a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe to stand still either. Points are earned for taking key figures of Catholicism and having them turned against their own believers. That demon sure does play some dirty pool.
If you have named your film The Exorcism of God then your audience is abviously coming for the exorcisms. Almost immediately Hidalgo tips his hats to the granddaddy of all exorcism films, replicating that iconic street lamp imagery from The Exorcist. The exorcisms, which bookend this horror flick are good, with all manner of ill physical conditions, bodily fluids and raspy voices. The final act does up the ante on exorcisms of course, though the possessed in the final act seem a tad over dramatic - a bit of the old ‘Woe Is Me’ flopping about every time a priest raises a crucifix. It burns, it burns! Response to the horror in this film will be subjective but we got far more mileage out of the jump scares than we got out of the exorcisms.
Wrapping up, we’re not saying it is a safe bet but it would appear that Hidalgo and Calvete are not big fans of the church - organized religion specifically. Hidalgo has said in interviews that he was raised Catholic but considers himself a spiritual person now rather than a religious person. We say you don't go as far as having Williams quote a particular passage from Corinthians in his sermon at the end of the movie, a passage in the Bible talking about the types of sinners who will not get into Heaven, to uproarious applause from his congregation (“Yeah! You tell them, Father. Screw those idolaters, thieves, liars, homosexuals and more!!!”). You cannot have that moment come under scrutiny from viewers on any side of faith spectrum. Hey, it could be simply a confirmation about who in this story likely won't have the chance to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. We think it didn’t have to go as far as quoting that contentious passage from scripture and its exclusion of a particular group of peoples.
When the dust settles Hidalgo and Calvete do pose an interesting question on where these spiritual battles continue to be fought. Like a possession happens within a given person, what if you could take that person somewhere else and have them do your bidding where it would have the most impact? Again, it might not be a dig at organized religion specifically but if you have issues with the church for any reason at all you will probably read it that way.
The Exorcism of God has some great scares in it. The exorcisms are largely by the book and meet expectations. Whether percieved digs at organized religion are intentional or not, as we said before, wherever you find yourself on the faith spectrum you're responses to those moments will vary. Regardless, it's a decent diversion for late night horror fans.