Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fantastic Fest 2012 Review: THE EXORCIST IN THE 21ST CENTURY

Directed by: Fredrik Horn Akselsen
Written by: Fredrik Horn Akselsen and Christian Falch 
Starring: Father Jose Antonio Fortea 
Synopsis: A documentary that follows a modern Vatican sanctioned exorcist and a woman that has been allegedly posesed by demons for 15 years. 

Exorcisms, like most aspects of religion, can be a somewhat controversial topic. Do demons actually possess people? What types of people do they look for? Why are only certain priests "allowed" to perform exorcisms? In fact, are there even demons? The last question could probably be debated forever. Exorcisms and possessions by demons have been a popular horror movie plot device used throughout the years. And as always, the best way to sell an exorcism movie is having the tagline, "based on true events." The documentary, THE EXORCIST IN THE 21ST CENTURY, follows a Vatican sanctioned exorcist, Father Jose Antonio Fortea.

Father Jose has a following and is a celebrity, as much as he can be, in his field. As one of the few sanctioned exorcists, he is highly sought after. However, he isn't allowed to perform exorcisms outside of his parish because that would go against Vatican law. Even though he is limited to where he can help, many people from all over the world seek out his help, like Constanza, a Colombian woman who claims she has been possessed by demons for 15 years. The film, in one of its more intense moments, shows an unblinking and dramatic attempt of an exorcism by a local priest. Constanza didn't spit pea soup or have her body twist in painful ways, but the glimpse of these supposed demons possessing her seemed realistic. Whether or not she is actually possessed, has other health issues, or is a woman seeking some attention and happens to be a great actress is up for debate. She whole heartedly believes she has demons possessing her, and her despair to rid them is evident in her eyes as she talks to the camera. Since her local exorcism didn't work, she begins to seek out Father Jose. Their paths eventually do cross at the end of the film.

This film had the possibility of pulling the great curtain and giving us a view of the inter-workings of Vatican laws and sanctions. However, the story ends up just being bland. There are two sequences that stand out: Contanza's exorcism and a gathering of believers who come to see Father Jose towards the end. For clocking in at just over 90 minutes, the pacing is so slow, but not in the trendy "slow burn" type of way. Director Fredrik Horn Akselsen doesn't develop any tension or cohesive narrative. He seem to just turn on his camera and hoped the story found him. Unfortunately, it did not. I really wanted to like this film because of the two stand out sequences. The topic of exorcisms needs a solid documentary because it's tiring watching that story be exploited almost every other year with a new Hollywood film.

I find the topic fascinating. As a non-believer, I was excited about this film finally exploring a real-life case. I have never trusted main stream horror movies that are "based on true events" and then sensationalized for profits. I was completely open to exploring the idea of Father Jose and Constanza's story. This woman is so desperate for his help, yet he is bound by Vatican law that he can't help her unless she travels across the world. It's interesting that a man in his position, whose job is to disciple and help people, can't help this woman who seems to need and want it. I know there was a great story in there somewhere. It was just never fleshed out for me.

THE EXORCIST IN THE 21ST CENTURY will be showing Saturday, September 22nd at 9:35pm and Tuesday, September 25th at 12:45pm at The Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar.

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