[Fantastic Fest Review] ‘The Exorcism of God’ blurs his subversion of possession

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In 2013, director Alexandre hidalgo gave the haunted house a sci-fi twist in its feature debut, Home at the end of time. Its long-awaited follow-up, The exorcism of God, attempts to shake up the all-too-familiar exorcism horror sub-genre. Hidalgo pays homage to the grandfather of all, The Exorcist, then works to retool the formula through the past and the present. It’s meant to be a scathing criticism of religion, but it’s muddled by adhering to tropes a little too much and centering the story on a morally murky track that is forgiven far too quickly.

The exorcism of God opens with a climatic-style exorcism in more ways than one. Father Peter Williams (Beinbrink), an American priest living in Mexico, defies orders from above to perform an exorcist only on a possessed woman. However, the demon knows his number and uses his host body to seduce Father Peter Williams, possessing himself. This leads him to commit one of the most glaring sins. Cut off at eighteen years later, the aftermath of that sin returns to haunt Father Peter Williams in a big way, sparking a larger-scale battle between good and evil.

Hidalgo captures this iconic photo of The Exorcist in the opening scene and continues to borrow from the film throughout, particularly in The Gaze of the Possessed. This includes the vomit of colorful pea soup projectile. But Hidalgo also weaves some of his ideas into a screenplay co-written with Santiago Fernandez Calvete. Once the woman has recovered from the opening, Magali (Iran Castillo), returns to the fold where Williams’ sins are exposed and the larger picture falls into place.

Beinbrink attempts to play Father Williams as a protagonist in constant conflict with himself. Yet the narrative rarely allows this to unfold in any meaningful way. Father Williams easily breaks down in the face of temptation at first, culminating in a non-consensual moment of great weakness that reverberates throughout the narrative. But Father Williams immediately returns to his role in the Church and buries this secret deep until he comes back roaring. Even then, the endless choices this character makes are often the opposite of sacred. By the end of the film, it’s clear that Hidalgo is launching scathing criticisms against the Church, especially in its corruption, but portraying Father Williams as a protagonist who never wins our sympathy makes the sale difficult and confusing. This priest is not a man worthy of his position, and he never bother to redeem or atone in any way. The narrative never does enough to earn that giant leap in the film’s finale, either.

Father Williams’ bow is a flat line from start to finish. There is no growth or depth to help him humanize him beyond a well-meaning but very corrupt priest. Support players don’t fare any better, but Joseph marcell (The prince of Bel-Air) tries to bring energy as Williams’ superior.

A few creative scary moments do come in demonic iterations of religious icons, but for the most part Hidalgo relies on reusing the same possession horror beats. It’s all in the service of highlighting this highly corrupt system, but blandly written supporting players and a flat lead that never earns any absolution, redemption, or growth of any kind. This basic concept drives the story but is buried too deep to engage. Much like Father Williams’ failure in the opening act, The exorcism of God never succeeds in its subversion.


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