Saturday, April 02, 2005
Codename V has high praise for The Exorcist 4
In which V. is slightly disturbed by reviewing a great film about demonic possession when the Pope has just died and stuff.

Slightly disturbed, but here we go anyway. I've just seen Exorcist: The Beginning. Considering that it was co-written by Caleb Carr, author of two of the best crime novels I've ever read, and starred Stellan Skarsgård, an actor I have intense admiration for... there's really no way I could dislike this film. It was great. Really great.

Here's an admission: I thought the original Exorcist was hilarious. I've seen it many times, starting when I was around ten years old, and I've never been even remotely creeped out by it. I suspect this is probably because I generally dismiss deity-based religion as mythology. It's one of those things that's only scary if you genuinely believe (even if only on some small level) that you yourself might actually be possessed by something evil.

The Exorcist II was just crap. And I think it's pretty much universally recognized as crap.

The Exorcist III was creepy as hell, and really didn't have anything much at all to do with the first two films. It was awesome, and the real shame is that hardly anyone ever bothers to see it. I give part three the Codename V. Stamp of Approval. But I'm getting off topic a little... really I just wanted to give some background on how generally unimpressed I am with these films.

Not part four, though. This one was genuinely gripping. It's a prequel. You've got your Stellan Skarsgård as Father Merrin (the Max von Sydow role in the original film). This is a man with personal demons galore. He abandoned the priesthood after all the horrible vile stuff he saw the Nazis do during the war. Now he's an archaeologist, and he's been asked to participate in a very special dig.

In a nutshell: in a small African village, an ancient church has been discovered buried in the sand. This is a mystery, because it dates way way way back before Christianity ever arrived in Africa. Who built it? Why? These are answers that we must know.

Merrin is asked to look for a particular relic, which is some stone thing in the form of a demon. This is when the creepy stuff starts happening.

This isn't going to be one of those reviews where I give you a cynical play-by-play of everything that happens. I only do that with the bad films. This is one that I think people should actually see, and going into a lot of detail would just spoil it for you. So I'll keep things vague.

Bad things happen to a lot of people in this film. But one of the things I really liked about it was that it didn't show "evil" as explicitly a supernatural force. Evil might be supernatural at times, sure. But evil is also (both in the real world and within the context of this film) a very human response to things. The main characters here are all haunted by things they have seen or done in their past. They have all been deeply affected by very human evils. I appreciate that the film gives us this ambiguity. As someone who thinks the devil is a fairy tale, it was a lot creepier for me seeing how completely fucking scary and badwrong HUMAN evil can be.

I also think that perhaps their already having been psychologically damaged by human evil made them a bit more receptive to the devil. Fragile people are always good targets for possession. Well, at least this is true based on the dozens of horror films I've seen on the topic...

Here's something else: one of the things I personally find most disturbing in horror films is when people move in ways that people just shouldn't be moving. Good examples of this would be in Jacob's Ladder when that guy's head starts shaking waaay too fast. Or in The Ring (Japanese version, natch) when Sadako crawls out of the well. Or that infamous spider-walk scene in the director's cut of the original Exorcist. Shit like that really does my head in. Badwrong! Anyway, towards the end of Part 4, there's quite a bit of that sort of thing. Some of it is pretty cheesy CGI, but the bulk of it is just plain old creepy. Again, the Codename V. Stamp of Approval.

More random praise for the devil film: in the original Exorcist, there were a few scenes with some subliminal stuff going on - faces, etc. that you could see in the background if you looked closely enough. I found at least one instance of this in Part 4. Fun times, yo.

So, yeah. I thoroughly enjoyed this. Two enthusiastic thumbs up.