October 13, 2017 – When I first stumbled onto the blog It’s Playing, But With Research, I was jealous. Jealous! With envy as green as the pea soup streaming out of Regan’s mouth! Academics CarrieLynn D. Reinhard and Christopher J. Olson not only studied exorcism cinema for a living, but they compiled a comprehensive list movies featuring an exorcism (the list is continually revised).
What?! Someone has watched more exorcism cinema than me?? Impossible – I wasn’t having it! So I went on a bender thanks to their list, and we began a correspondence that ended with me having a credit on their book Possessed Women, Haunted States. What a lovely honor. I urge you to read the book (which analyzes the tropes of exorcism cinema and puts them in sociological context), check out their blog and listen to their podcast, Pop Culture Lens.
So when I went on this bender of demonic possession and exorcism movies, I started with everything on the list that followed after 2005’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the movie I feel really sparked this ongoing new wave. I had already watched (and on many occasions, blogged about) The Last Exorcism, The Last Exorcism II, The Rite, The Devil Inside, The Possession and Deliver Us From Evil.
My conclusions following this never-ending bender is that 98% of exorcism movies are dreck and 1% are mediocre to fair. And then there is the 1% composed of good, great or highly interesting if not technically good. It is five of these that I would like to highlight here.
The BlackCoat’s Daughter – This is a stunning, gory, eerie, and slow meditation on loneliness, alienation and need. Two young girls at a boarding school are left alone during winter break, where an evil takes them in their grip. It’s beautifully shot, and the soundtrack is perfect. One of my favorite in the genre. Directed and written by Osgood Perkins (who is Anthony Perkins’ son) and starring Emma Roberts, Lucy Boynton, Kiernan Shipka, James Remar and Lauren Holly.
The Possession of Michael King – Another favorite, and an unusual outlier in the genre, highlighting a lot of what Possessed Women, Haunted States deals with. A likeable, handsome widower seeks to deal with his tragic loss by documenting his quest to become possessed, thereby proving the existence of the supernatural and the beyond. The ending is derivative and lame, and I’m not sure that the story was served by the found footage format, but it is gripping and wonderful. And the conceit – similar to that in the terrific A Dark Song – is fantastic. Perhaps a more polished remake? Directed and written by David Jung and starring Shane Johnson, Ella Anderson and Cara Pifko.
Asmodexia – This is not necessarily a great horror movie but it is a good Spanish occult action thriller in the style of Legion, with a clever twist. An exorcist and his beautiful young granddaughter travel the Spanish countryside to perform exorcisms. Possessions are occurring at alarming and frequent rates. But it’s not what you think! I shall spoil no more. Directed by Marc Carreté, written by Marc Carreté and Mike Hostench, and starring Claudia Pons and Luis Marco.
The Atticus Institute – Here is another found-footage, one that combines demonic possession and exorcism with nefarious government experiments and cover-ups in a thrilling stew that makes the conspiracy nuts shout ‘Hallelujah!’ I liked it quite a bit on its face. It’s entertaining and bloody, and dare I say I found it a little bit scary. Directed and written by Chris Sparling and starring William Mapother, Rya Kihlstedt and John Rubinstein.
Requiem – finally, if there is one film you should watch in this genre, it is this one from Germany. Please by all means. It has an exorcism, but does it have a possession? It is not a horror movie. It is the story of Anneliese Michel minus the fictionalized, supernaturalist noxious piety of The Exorcism of Emily Rose or other films based on that poor girl’s life. I hope it makes you sad, angry and skeptical. Directed by Hans-Christian Schmid and starring Sandra Hüller, Burghart Klaußner and Imogen Kogge,
Special shout-outs: Cult, a fun found footage romp and the only Shinto-based exorcism movie I’ve ever seen, and to An Irish Exorcism and The Vatican Exorcisms, which I like for their eerie, gloomy atmosphere and cultural Catholic dourness.
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