Exorcism films have been so ubiquitous in recent times that they have all but lost complete credibility, with low-budget studios churning them out for the straight-to-DVD or streaming market. Many titles follow the format of The Exorcism of [ ___ ], much like this one, but Alejandro Hidalgo’s sophomore effort at least strives to be different. The filmmaker is deft in his use of existing exorcism film lore, bouncing off it to create shortcuts and using the tropes to flip the script and subvert expectations.
The Exorcism of God doesn’t deal in subtleties, from the moment it recreates the iconic light-and-staircase moment from The Exorcist to a climactic scene where the title is realised and a gaggle of the possessed attempt to exorcise God’s presence from the priest. It’s a moment that could be arch in the wrong hands but Hidalgo and the cast play it very straight.
In fact, so much of the film is played with a distinct lack of humour that comic relief from Joseph Marcell almost feels as though he’s strutted in from an entirely different film. Marcell wades through pithy one-liners and deadpan exposition with a level of commitment alien to the rest of the cast, but ultimately his presence is destructive; his iconic role as Geoffrey from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air unfortunately finds him distracting through no fault of his own.
There are several creepy set pieces, compounding sequences that build to crescendo and do not relent. The quiet moments offer little solace, as dread permeates and jump scares await around every corner. Our protagonist, Father Peter Williams, rarely appears in shots with other people, entirely isolated by his guilt and shame. Touches like this elevate The Exorcism of God and highlight the thoughtful approach to filmmaking that Hidalgo showed us in his first film, The House at the End of Time. Even though the stakes never feel quite as high as they should, there is enough starkness in the frame and the score to keep you on high alert. The cinematography does a great job of stretching and masking the low budget; while the possession make-up may be hacky and reminiscent of so-called creepypasta, it’s effective.
Corny, tropey moments could suggest a lack of research into the clergy but this sits alongside a fairly faithful representation of an obscure demon, Balban, who featured in a ‘real-life’ exorcism in Spain in the 16th century. Perhaps, instead, the hackiest parts of the dialogue are a result of writing in a second language or, more egregiously, watching too many exorcism films. Concentration-wresting scenes pepper the film and undercut the great work; one or two would be forgivable but the final moment is so grievously unoriginal that it feels pulled from an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Returning to the lack of subtlety, there is a very clear subtext bubbling just barely below the surface that wants to challenge the viewer’s thoughts about the myriad abuses carried out and covered up by the Catholic Church. The Exorcism of God asks the question: is the ‘good work’ that the Catholic Church does enough to negate the sexual abuse, the silence, the cover-up? It ultimately answers this by invoking Catholicism’s own list of people who are deemed unworthy of inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven. No, says Alejandro Hidalgo, it’s not enough.
María Gabriela de Faría
Santiago Fernández Calvete
28 March 2022