Alejandro Hidalgo made his debut in 2013 with The House at the End of Time, a haunted house film with a brilliant twist. Based on that, great things were predicted for him. Instead, there were several years of silence between it and the announcement of The Exorcism of God. And a few more years before the finished version made its way to festivals. As always in cases like these, the question is, was it worth the wait?
It’s 2003 and Father Peter Williams (Will Beinbrink, I Saw the Light, Hidden in the Woods) finds himself in a bad situation. A local woman is possessed and facing certain death unless the demon is cast out. Father Peter, who has started but not finished his training as an exorcist, defies his superior Father Lewis (Joseph Marcell, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind) and attempts to free her. It ends with the demon possessing him and leading him to commit a sin that usually involves a priest and an altar boy.
Eighteen years later Father Williams is the priest in a small town where he is universally adored by the villagers. But he’s still haunted by what happened that night and when the children of the village start dying he suspects the past is catching up to him. When an inmate at the nearby women’s prison becomes possessed he knows it has.
If Father Williams’ sin brings the church’s abuse scandals to mind it’s not a coincidence. Hidalgo and co-writer Santiago Fernández Calvete (The Second Death, A Taste of Blood) work a considerable amount of criticism of the church’s corruption and hypocrisy into The Exorcism of God’s plot. Along with this are themes of sin and redemption. Unfortunately, the script trips over itself by having its protagonist dodge taking full responsibility for his past until he’s almost literally backed into a corner. While it reinforces the script’s critiques of Catholicism it makes it extremely hard to sympathize with Father Williams.
Looking at it simply as a horror film, The Exorcism of God is a similarly mixed bag. It’s an incredible-looking film to be certain. Cinematographer Gerard Uzcategui (The Deserter, The Lake Vampire) brings out the dread and atmosphere everywhere in the film, especially in the dark dungeon-like prison where much of the story takes place. When Father Lewis says he doesn’t know whether to use Holy Water or bleach you can almost smell the stink from the cells.
Those settings are filled with unsettling images that include religious statues coming to life and an image of a possessed Jesus that resembles an even more demonic-looking Charles Manson. All of this builds to a final act that frequently resembles Lamberto Bava’s Demons crossed with Exorcist Vengeance as much as it does a traditional tale of possession.
Unfortunately, many of The Exorcism of God’s jump scares rely on very familiar tropes, from people being pulled into dark rooms to projectile vomiting of green goo. Granted this time it has the fingers the possessed woman bit off of a guard mixed in with it, but it’s still way too familiar.
While it strives to be more than a simple horror film, The Exorcism of God is held back from those goals by its issues with the main character. While the climactic battle is well-staged and something I can’t recall having seen before, I found it hard to accept given Father William’s past actions. The result is a visually striking and entertaining horror film that had the potential to be something more.
Saban Films will release The Exorcism of God in theaters and on VOD and Digital platforms on March 11th.It comes to Blu-ray and DVD on April 19th.