Friday, February 6, 2015

Women in Horror: Exorcismus

* spoilers *

Emma Evans is a typical frustrated teen. Her parents and her little brother are annoying and she just wants to have fun and party with her friends. Then the day after she went to a party, came home drunk, and had a huge fight with her family, Emma has a seizure. The doctors find nothing wrong with her at all, so she returns home. Her condition worsens as she has small blackouts where she does things without remembering what happened. The aftermath of the incidents show that she's hurting the people around her and the events are getting more dangerous. Emma goes to her uncle who is a priest for help, insisting that she's possessed. Her parents agree when she begins levitating and almost drowns her brother in the bathtub. Can the demon be exorcised before someone dies?

I usually hate exorcism films. They are almost always about suppressing and demonizing a young woman's sexuality. I caught Exorcismus on TV and wasn't expecting much. I was pleasantly surprised to find a competent and well crafted film. Emma is fifteen years old and homeschooled, but has a wild streak. One of her crazy nights changes her life when she drinks, does drugs, and plays with a ouija board. It has all the trappings of a stereotypical exorcism film, but plays with the conventions of the genre. Emma actually summons the devil into herself in a fit of teenage rebellion against her family. Her reasons are typical for any teenager: she wants to be free. As wishes usually go, it's interpreted by the devil as destroying her family one by one, which of course she didn't really want. Most exorcist films take place largely in one room where the possessed is trapped, but Emma roams freely to wreak destruction. She goes about her day to day life, but has moments where she has no idea what she does and someone always ends up emotionally or physically hurt. Instead of her parents going straight to religion for help, they put their trust in science and logic. Emma goes to her Father Christopher  herself to ask for help. Her parents only consented after a few attempts at murder when it was clear that medicine wouldn't help her. I found this refreshing because the notion of real demonic possession is hard to believe and people tend to not turn to that as their first guess when their children are sick.

This change in tropes also extends to the priest and the ending. At first, Father Christopher seems like every exorcist priest ever: pious, good, and striving to help the poor possessed girl. He is tender with Emma and reassures her that nothing the demon does is her fault and how to keep from killing her family members. The first sign of trouble is that he is adamant about telling no one about their sessions together which she doesn't remember. The ending reveals that he has just been exploiting Emma and getting the supernatural aspects on film to prove the devil is real. He had no intention of healing her until he had his proof, which allowed her brother to die and her mother to go mad. The loss of their lives were considered sad, but unavoidable in pursuit of the greater good. This isn't even the first time he has done this. Another possessed girl died in his care most likely for the pursuit of proof over her well-being. I can't think of an exorcism film that features an evil priest. Even the one in The Exorcism of Emily Rose who allows his charge to die of neglect is portrayed in a positive light. Emma eventually has the strength to save herself without the aid of some opportunistic jerk or his patriarchal religion.

Exorcismus is a breath of fresh air in a genre where a lot of the films just try to emulate The Exorcist. Every step of the way, Emma had agency and chose her own path. She did make mistakes that led to horrible consequences, but she was able to free herself in the end. I love that this very typically misogynistic type of film turns the tropes around and makes it a feminist film that portrays the corrupt Catholic church in a negative light for once. Sophie Vavasseur shines as Emma and deftly switches between Emma and the demon. There are a few flaws, but they were very minor and didn't matter much in the bigger picture.

My rating: 8/10 fishmuffins

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