Fantastic Fest 2012 Review: The Exorcist in the 21st Century
Review by Eric Lefenfeld
The mere notion of exorcism needs to do very little work to sell itself as the subject of a documentary. Like their undead counterparts, exorcists, along with the requisite side serving of possessed young women, have grown to become cinematic staples since the release of a sort of famous movie back in 1974. Maybe you’ve heard of it…
With this in mind, the real-world basis of the ritual is rife for exploration. Exorcist in the 21st Century takes us halfway there just by being about a subject that most people have only seen in a fictional context. Ultimately, the film’s focus is just too broad; it poses all sorts of interesting questions, but doesn’t seem at all concerned with answering them.
There are a couple of stories entrenched within this broad overview, each of which has the potential to be enthralling had they been more fleshed out. On one end is Constanza, a young woman on a seemingly futile quest to rid herself of the demons that may or may not just be symptomatic of clinical depression. On the other end of the spectrum is Father Fortea, one of the few Vatican-approved priests operating out of Europe. Their stories eventually come together as Constanza attends a large church service in which Father Fortea preaches as supposedly possessed women writhe and curse in front of the stage. These scenes, which make up most of the final third, are eerie and engrossing. It’s a nice respite after the dry talking heads that make up the majority of the film.
It’s a little heartbreaking to watch Constanza’s ordeal as she erupts into fits of violent rage. It seems like her boyfriend has planted this idea of possession into a mind already addled with depression, but the film doesn’t press this issue too hard. The intent here seems to be more slice-of-life than expose, quickly bringing up as many subjects as can be squeezed into the running time. It’s quite fascinating to get a peek behind the curtain as Fortea and other priests discuss a bevy of issues: exorcists’ positions in the church hierarchy, accusations that they’re all just opportunists and hucksters taking advantage of impressionable religious devotees, the lasting ripple effect of William Friedkin’s classic film, or the morally gray area in which mental illness is glossed over with a demonic diagnosis. Most of these more controverisal subjects, however, are only mentioned in passing before quickly moving along.
Obviously, one cannot hope for a definitive answer to any faith-based question, but to pass over the more controversial aspects removes the real meat of the film. Most everyone is at least somewhat familiar with the basics of exorcism thanks to its prominence in popular culture. While it’s still nice to watch these generalized aspects being discussed, it’s those smaller details that are truly worthy of exploration.
Exorcist In The 21st Century is a perfectly passable overview of exorcism’s place in our culture, but it feels more like a History Channel special than a truly engrossing documentary. It’s interesting and even a little creepy at points, but it’s ultimately too fluffy to leave much of an impression.