Director/co-writer Alejandro Hidalgo’s The Exorcism Of God follows Father Peter (Will Beinbrink), who’s considered a saint among the locals of the Mexican town he’s been helping for the last several years. However, unbeknownst to them, the priest harbors a dark secret from his past. Said secret is tied to Father Peter’s successful exorcism, but it still weighs on his soul.
Father Peter receives a call from the prison near the town, as one of the inmates is possessed… by the same demon from nearly two decades ago. As he prepares to battle the demonic entity again, flashbacks inform viewers of what happened on that ill-fated night so long ago. Can Father Peter find redemption and save his and the female prisoner’s soul from eternal damnation?
Hidalgo’s sophomore feature (with an eight-year gap between) is gorgeously shot, with crisp, clean visuals and stunning lighting. In that regard, The Exorcism Of God brings to mind the forgotten Ben Chaplin-Winona Ryder 2000 supernatural drama Lost Souls. Of course, this means that it suffers from the same critical flaw as that slightly underrated movie: it is never scary.
Gerard Uzcategui’s cinematography is lush, capturing the Mexican topography and dimly lit cells with equal grace and beauty. Every second is beautiful to look at, but horror thrives in the gritty and grimy. For all its flaws (stupid characters, poor editing, etc.), Tobe Hooper brilliantly exploited that fact to a terrifying degree in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is why it is still a beloved horror classic.
“…[Father Peter] prepares to battle the demonic entity again…”
So, does The Exorcism Of God still work despite it never unnerving the audience? For the most part, yes, though there are other issues. Some odd editing choices confound. For example, a conversation between Father Peter and the mother of the 18-year-old possessed lady is followed by the priest waking up in a cold sweat. This usually implies either nightmares or flashbacks, both of which are used to good effect elsewhere here. That conversation did actually take place and was not a flashback, so huh?
However, the dramatic horror tale still does work. This is partially due to co-writers Santiago Fernández Calvete and Hidalgo’s strong characterizations. Peter is multi-dimensional, and all watching will care for him. Credit must also go to Beinbrink in this regard, as the actor finds the right balance between empathetic, determined, and guilt-ridden.
While the various twists and turns of The Exorcism Of God won’t surprise horror fans in the least (one of them is the title itself!), the filmmaker adds enough unique elements to have found new life in a wrung-out genre. To discuss the two most compelling threads in this regard would lead to massive spoilers. Of course, if one were to think about specifics of it, too long plot holes would emerge; it was a possessed being after. But, those are only noticeable after the fact, as all the characters are so well-drawn, from major supporting players to one-line roles, that everyone will willingly get swept up into the chaos with these people. Plus, the climax, taking place at the prison, is wild and entirely entertaining.
The Exorcism Of God does not reach the same heights as the classic possession stories such as The Exorcist, Grace: The Possession, Ava’s Possessions, or Deliver Us From Evil. This is mainly because the movie fails to elicit viewers’ dread, shock, fright, or chills due to how utterly clean and manicured the visuals are. Mind you, those visuals are breathtaking from a lighting/style perspective, but they are not scary. However, thanks to strong characters, a great cast, and one bonkers-in-the-best-way finale, the film is sure to please undiscerning fans that just want to have a bit of cool-looking fun for an evening.
"…every second is beautiful to look at..."