Oh those teenage years are full of troubles. You’re never allowed to go to the gigs you want to, you have to spend half of your free time doing your French homework (pourquoi?!) and your parents never believe you, especially when you tell them you’re possessed by the devil.
Like most teenagers, Emma Evans (Sophie Vavasseur) has to put up with all of these petty bothers. Her family, living in a coloured-in version of a chirpy Wii advert, go about their business uttering sentences that function as bold and wince-worthily obvious signposts to character development. ‘Finished the article?’, mum asks dad after she’s finished chatting to someone on her mobile about business related stuff. At this point, director Manuel Carballo might as well have put a BREAKING NEWS banner across the screen. This is a stable middle-class family. Subtle, darhling.
It’s moments like this that betray the fact that this is a Spanish film set in England. References to London scatter the film like rats scattered a Victorian sewer. There are some snide references made about Catholics and tempers are shown when Emma taunts her covertly lesbian friend. These sub-plots are picked up and dropped as Emma swings from bad to worse, turning from devilishly homophobic to murderer like the speculative subject of a Daily Mail article.
Exorcismus lacks the spinning head of its obvious comparison piece, yet all of the other standard clichés are there. This is medieval drama meets contemporary made-for-ITV film and the collision isn’t pretty. There’s levitation, crucifixes and moments where the director has clearly called on Star Wars’ vocal manipulation department. As Converse-clad Vavasseur is tied to a wooden chair with simple leather straps and surrounded by some kind of holy water from a antique glass vial, we are given a convenient visual representation of how dated the film she acts in is.
Typical of this pattern, the lines are very predicable and interrogations of religious obsession are half-hearted and fickle. When asked what happened at Emma’s exorcism, her uncle, a Catholic priest with handy skills in exposing demons, utters the line ‘That’s between me and her.’ Like Congregational members in a catechism, anybody in the audience will be able to recite what’s coming next: ‘…and God’.
Is Exorcismus an exciting take on the battle between good and evil? Not quite. Is it a scarily accurate representation of me at 15? Perhaps. Patronising in its attitude to teenagers and subculture, and irritating in its depiction of happy The Observer-reading family life gone sour, it’s hard to see the appeal of this spectacularly average film.