Sunday, June 01, 2014

DWF ’14: The Periphery

As a Pope Francis kind of priest, young Father McCready is uncomfortable with traditional ideas of demons and exorcisms. In contrast, his headmaster, Father Jenkins, is an old school Benedict XVI kind of clergyman. Unfortunately, the senior priest’s diagnosis will prove correct for one of their students. Things get Exorcistic in Tom Lewis’s The Periphery (trailer here), which screens during the seventeenth Dances With Films.

Essentially, Cassie Stevens died and came back to life. Unfortunately, the young girl her drunken goth friends ran over was not so fortunate. Frankly, her second lease on life turns out to be more of a curse than a blessing. Not only must she endure the public shame and survivor’s guilt resulting from her accident, something sinister has apparently followed her from the other side. Initially, she can only see it vaguely out of the corner of her eye, but it steadily gets closer and more belligerent.

They say in the film: “evil hides in the periphery,” which sound heavy. More importantly, it prevents Lewis from over-exposing the malevolent entity, forcing him to suggest rather than show, which is always a winning horror movie strategy. His instincts are not always so on target, particularly the opening narration (“I’m Cassie Stevens and I see blurry androgynous figures”) that makes it sound like a television pilot. The general tone is also surprisingly dour and downbeat.

However, like Blatty and Friedkin, Lewis addresses his themes of good, evil, and redemption with scrupulous seriousness. He also establishes an effective dichotomy between the secular reason of Stevens’ psychiatrist, Dr. Switzer, and the faith of Father Jenkins. In fact, the best things going for Periphery are the distinctive supporting turns from Larrs Jackson (with his incredible radio voice) and executive producer Myron Natwick as Dr. Switzer and Fr. Jenkins, respectively. The young kids just don’t have the presence of the veteran cats.

True, Periphery is simply nowhere near the Exorcist’s level, but Lewis (an attorney specializing in film production work in his other life) nicely handles some third act revelations and maintains a menacing vibe throughout. It is also compelling to watch the re-assertion of Fr. McCready’s flagging faith, at least for the bad stuff. (Still, you have to wonder where Stevens’ supposedly concerned parents are constantly disappearing to, in the middle of the night.) While certainly a B-movie, it is considerably better than you would expect. Worth checking out for die-hard horror fans, The Periphery screens Tuesday night (6/3) during this year’s Dances With Films in Hollywood proper.