In 1973 The Exorcist did not invent the priest vs demon possession Horror flick, but it has certainly kept it going for nearly 50 years now. Its DNA can be seen in nearly each and every example of the genre since then. Especially if they have ‘exorcist’ or ‘exorcism’ in the title. Other countries have done their own takes on it too, like 1974’s Şeytan from Turkey, 1975’s Exorcismo from Spain, and I Don’t Want to Be Born from the UK.
The latest example, The Exorcism of God comes from Venezuela via Mexico. Directed by Alejandro Hidalgo (The House at the End of Time 2013, House of the Disappeared 2017), who co-wrote the script alongside Santiago Fernández Calvete (Intimate Witness 2015, Sangre Vurdalak 2020), the film follows Father Peter Williams (Will Beinbrink: Queen of the South 2016, It: Chapter Two 2019), a priest who was possessed by a demon he tried to exorcise from a young woman. It forced him to commit horrible deeds before it could be dealt with, leading him to disappear from public life afterwards.
Eighteen years later, while working for a children’s charity in a small Mexican town, Peter discovers that same demon has returned. It has possessed a prison inmate called Esperanza (María Gabriela de Faría: Yo Soy Franky series, Deadly Class series) and has unleashed a plague amongst the town’s children in a bid to reclaim Peter’s soul. Their only hope is for Peter to exorcise it and admit to what he did 18 years ago as a result. However, he would condemn himself to excommunication, and forfeit his faith, family, and friends in the process.
The Exorcism of God came out in Mexico back on February 22, 2022. The US received it on digital platforms, plus for a limited cinema run on March 11th, and now on April 19th it arrives on Blu-ray + Digital/DVD through Lionsgate. It runs at a comfy 1 hour and 38 minutes and is largely in English with the odd bit of Spanish and Latin here and there (subtitled for the monolingual Anglophones). But does it stand out from the rest of the pack? And is it any good?
To answer the first question; not really. It has plenty of elements akin to The Exorcist, and not just in the typical stuff (Catholic iconography comes with the turf). The looks and behavior of the possessed people is not a million miles away from that of Regan, the possessed girl from that film. Only there are some CGI effects here and there, and the victims are grown women. This leads to the film getting kind of lewd and gross on occasion for some reason.
The scares are also rather unexceptional- loud shouts and screams, gross makeup jobs, and the occasional spurts of bodily fluids. Some of them succeed at being creepy, though the jump scares are more likely to annoy horror veterans than anything else. At least that might be offset by the unintentionally funny image of Peter’s nightmares where he gets stalked by a possessed Jesus (Alfredo Herrera: Fear the Walking Dead series, Dios Inc series).
Yet there is a serious topic at the heart of the film, which helps it stand out a bit. Namely, how does one absolve themselves of a particularly serious sin? Peter’s deed is inferred quite early in the film, though even at that stage revealing it would be a spoiler. He tries a host of good deeds, right up to the point where he is considered a ‘saint’, except he is still burdened by the weight of his crime. As are the victims of it, notably a former nun called Magali (Irán Castillo: El Pantera series, Perseguidos series.)
Except it could have been handled better. For one, the film trying to touch upon a priest coming to terms with his sin while also trying to cover it up, and in turn having Possessed Jesus doing his oogy-boogy act, and the Possessed Women doing the softcore rubs from hell gives the film a weird tone. Like if 1988’s The Accused had Shannon Tweed and Goofy peppered throughout it. It is silly at best, and tasteless at worst. At least that is until the ending, which manages to be both at the same time.
Is there anything in its favor? The acting is inoffensive, with nothing to blow anyone’s mind away. Beinbrink’s Peter is suitably guilty and conflicted, and Castillo’s Magali is hurt and fuming. Joseph Marcell (Fresh Prince of Bel Air series, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind 2019) brings some gravitas to the proceedings as the more experienced mentor. Still, he is in essence just Father Mayhew from The Exorcist, right down to his warnings about this film’s demon of choice. He just has a bit more attitude, and thus has the film’s best lines (“What the fuck is this, Peter?! …I don’t know whether to spread holy water or bleach!”)
The Exorcism of God would certainly have been better if it were 100 minutes of Marcell bringing the Geoffrey-esque charm to snark on demons. As it is, the film is a competently directed, averagely acted Exorcist clone with a tone-deaf plot and bland-to-silly scares involved. There are better alternatives for horror newbies and buffs alike, be it the original 1973 film or its catalogue’s worth of successors. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives this film 2 out of 5 stars.