Friday, March 11, 2022

Alejandro Hidalgo’s The Exorcism of God

We have all seen enough exorcism movies to know a morally-compromised priest is as dangerous in an exorcism as a poorly maintained gun in a fire fight. Nevertheless, desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures. An American priest based in Mexico is forced to conduct an emergency exorcism on his own, but he doesn’t get away clean in Alejandro Hidalgo’s The Exorcism of God, which opens tomorrow in theaters and on-demand.

Sister Magali’s possession reached a dire point, so Father Peter Williams faced the demon on his own, before his mentor Father Michael Lewis could arrive. Things were already pretty rocky before the demon jumped into him and then literally jumped on Sister Magali. After the deed was done, the demon disappeared, leaving Father Williams an apparent hero to outsiders. Neither he nor Magali, who soon left the order, ever spoke of the incident. Obviously, that leaves him in a state of unconfessed sin.

Unfortunately, it turns out the demon has been constantly tormenting his possession-child, Esperanza. It has gotten so bad, she was remanded to a juvenile prison, but transferred to an old grown-up human rights-abusing jungle prison by mistake. Of course, that means everyone else there is in mortal danger. Father Lewis will have to face his old demonic nemesis again, but this time he will combine forces with Father Lewis.

Initially, a lot
Exorcism could be seen as a commentary on the Church’s sexual abuse scandals (even though a Priest and a nun wouldn’t technically be illegal, by the laws of man). Yet, it ultimately takes aim at an even deeper moral rot—the kind some lay leaders blame for its increasingly collaborationist overtures to CCP.

Hidalgo sophomore film is also pretty scary, like most possession horror films, because it presents good and evil as very real and tangible concepts that hold dramatic and concrete implications. Like Hidalgo’s previous film,
The House at the End of Time (and the Korean remake, House of the Disappeared), Exorcism is enormously atmospheric. Plus, it should certainly convince anyone they don’t want to be secreted away from sight in an off-the-grid Mexican prison.

Will Beinbrink is pretty intense, especially by looser genre standards, as Father Williams. However, Joseph Marcell (the butler on the original
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) is a dynamo of stern, old school energy as Father Lewis. (Due to the multilingual nature of the production, the dialogue synching sometimes sounds a bit disembodied, but they both have strong presences that power through it.)

There is some pretty heavy spiritual and metaphysical stuff afoot in
Exorcism. Frankly, Hidalgo and co-screenwriter Santiago Fernandez Calvete warn us right from the start what is coming, but it is still unsettling when it happens. That’s some good horror filmmaking. Recommended for fans, The Exorcism of God opens today (3/11) in New York, at the Cinema Village.