11 April 2010

Ally's Review: The Exorcist

It’s not an easy task to review a movie like The Exorcist. You can’t really say anything new on the subject and to ‘recommend it’ at the end seems a bit ridiculous... I mean it’s The Exorcist for goodness sake. You can’t be a film buff – much less a horror film buff – without seeing it.

I have watched this film twice and I don’t think I’ll see it again for a number of years. It’s one of the most challenging movies to watch, truly a chilling and disturbing experience. I remember the first time I watched it (the director’s cut) with my Dad and neither of us said anything the entire movie. No tension-breaking comments. It was a unique experience, different from any other horror movie: it felt like the stakes were raised. It was pretty horrible actually. Not an easy sleep that night...I didn’t want some of those images to revisit me in the dark!

It took a while for me to watch this movie again. When we started Horror Club I knew that it was going to be brought to the table at some point. Quite early on in season 1, I was forced to watch it again. Unlike The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it remained an equally disturbing and difficult watch on second viewing.

I think it has to be acknowledged that there might be something which resonates with particular viewers depending on what they believe. Clarky mentioned in his Wicker Man review that he felt some of its impact was lost on him because he isn’t religious. I’m not sure I necessarily agree with that (I think that had more to do with me and Fin just being two people who get scared far too easily), but with regards to The Exorcist I do think there is merit to that argument. Perhaps I find this movie particularly chilling because a part of me thinks that there might be something unexplainable about the history of exorcisms (beyond the 99.99% that can be explained by mental illness). Do I believe that people can spin their heads round 360 degrees and projectile vomit endless quantities of green pea soup? No... but it doesn’t change the fact that part of me fears an evil beyond the limits of our understanding. It is not often that I am forced to confront this unsettling subject, but I felt like I had no choice whilst watching this film. From the horror perspective, I think this is why I was so scared of this movie. None of this is to say that the movie can’t impact the viewer, whatever they believe, but I think this is one of the reasons why it felt like a more significant experience to me than any other horror film I have seen.

It takes a tremendous effort to make a film on this subject that is so widely respected and acclaimed. This can only be achieved when every member of the cast and crew are at the top of their game. I have to start by acknowledging the direction of William Friedkin. He manages to make a film that has an uncomfortable vibe from the outset. The use of subliminal images – which menacingly pop up unexpectedly – make the viewer feel a level of unease that may be unmatched in horror. It’s the sort of level of unease that gives you a queasy feeling in your stomach, it makes you question whether you should really be watching it. Friedkin isn’t in any rush to get to the horrific bedroom showdown, he takes his time to build up the story and enrich the characters. All of this makes the film even more compelling and rewarding: we genuinely care about their struggles and identify with how they feel as they encounter the incomprehensible.

In terms of movie characters, Father Karras has to rank as one of my all time favourites. The tortured, grieving, priest who is forced into a conflict with something he isn’t prepared for. For me, it’s his will to help this little girl that is the most compelling aspect of the film. Despite his personal pain and agony, his faith and love prevail in a way that make this (extremely) challenging film uplifting... in a strange way. Perhaps that’s actually why this film resonates with me, more so than what I said previously about the fear of an evil beyond comprehension. My interpretation is that we see Karras truly suffer, his doubt tormenting him, but ultimately we see the true nature of his faith in his sacrifice. It is a tremendously powerful character development. His performance is central to making this film believable and heart-wrenching, not an easy task given the subject matter. I’m not sure I can think of a better acting performance than the one Jason Miller gives as Karras.

It’s a true masterpiece of cinema. There isn’t much else I can say.


  1. 'The power of Christ compels you' great review

  2. Also that is a stunning picture of father Karras where did you get it wouldn't mind a print.


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