Thursday, June 20, 2024

The Exorcism (Not The Exorcist, or is it?)

Anthony Miller is not an exorcist, but he will play one in the movies—hopefully. Unfortunately, the role is really taking a lot out of him. The director is demanding, but a real-deal demon is even scarier. Cheekily, the film-within-the-film is code-named The Georgetown Project. Horror fans know what that refers to, but the demon wants to rewrite the ending in Joshua John Miller’s The Exorcism, which opens Friday.

Miller is known for his mistakes off-screen, but he is trying resurrect his career.
The Georgetown Project would be a high-profile comeback vehicle, since the original actor cast in the Father Merrin-like role was killed during the prologue. As a bonus, Miller also secures a production assistant gig for his daughter Lee. They are not exactly estranged, but their relationship is certainly a bit frayed around the edges. He thought spending time together would bring them closer, but instead, he is humiliated when she sees Peter the director wielding all his past failures to prod him, in a method kind of way.

Meanwhile, the demon also starts playing games with Miller’s perception of reality. The combined pressure takes a toll on his physical, mental, and spiritual health. Unfortunately, the film’s technical adviser, Father Conor, does not suspect demonic interference until its claws are deeply embedded in Miller’s psyche.

The Exorcism
is not just broadly inspired by The Exorcist in the way of nearly every subsequent demonic horror movie. In this case, the echoes and parallels are deliberately intended. Miller’s father was actor-playwright Jason Miller (born John Anthony Miller), who starred as Father Karras in Exorcist I and III. Peter shares a name with Exorcist novelist and screenwriter, William Peter Blatty, but some of his confrontational tactics are reminiscent of techniques attributed to director William Friedkin. Also, Russell Crowe has had a few off-screen incidents, not unlike [his] Miller.

Regardless, the Anthony Miller of
The Exorcism is another example of the troubled souls he now seems to be specializing in, often in otherwise formulaic B-movies, like Sleeping Dogs. In the case of The Exorcism, his performance is just as good, but it comes in a better film.

As Miller, Crowe is a huge mountain of angsty guilt. He looks like he is so into the role on a profound method level, he is almost alarming to watch. While David Hyde Pierce is not an obvious choice to play sophisticated, Hollywood-friendly Father Conor, it turns out to be inspired casting. Frankly, Adam Goldberg is a terror in his own right, as the manipulative director. Although he does not last long, Adrian Pasdar elevates the sinister preface. However, Samantha Mathis is weirdly under-utilized as one of the producers. Similarly, Sam Worthington appears to be another victim of reshoots as Joe, the thesp playing the Father Karras-analog.

The soundstage recreating the Georgetown townhouse is a wonderfully creepy set. Even without Joshua John Miller’s personal connections to
The Exorcist, the notion of a horror movie production terrorized by a demon is a grabby idea that brings new meaning to the saying: “speak of the Devil and he shall appear.” The meta-echoes from The Exorcist (a famously “cursed” film) deepen the unsettling vibe and Miller’s slow-building, but well-executed terrors. Highly recommended for fans of demonic horror, The Exorcism opens tomorrow (6/21) in New York theaters, including the Regal Times Square.