Spanish horror’s knack for using leftover ingredients to whip up something with a distinctly nasty flavor is again demonstrated in “Exorcismus,” the latest from Filmax, the country’s premier horror shingle. This grim little devil-inside-me chiller delivers the staples — white eyeballs, rapidly muttered Latin and scuttling roaches are all present and correct — but scripter David Munoz’s bold decision to add convincingly intense family drama lends a richer, “Requiem”-style human dimension, making for more than just standard fare. IFC acquired North American distribution rights after the English-language pic’s Sitges premiere.
Sulky, troubled 15-year-old Emma (Sophie Vavasseur) is home-schooled by her control-freak mom, Lucy (Jo Anne Stockham), and henpecked dad, John (Richard Felix). Emma is desperate to go to college like a normal kid, but all is not well. Following some serious seizures, she vomits blood and sees the words “You can be free” written in steam on the bathroom mirror, but she has no recollection of writing them.
Her parents send her to a shrink (Brendan Price), who has a heart attack and dies during their first session: It appears that Emma can kill people by talking to them. After practically drowning her younger brother Mark (Lazzaro Oertli) and turning nasty on friends Alex (Tommy Bastow) and Rose (Isamaya Ffrench), Emma calls in her uncle Christopher (Stephen Billington), a rebel priest with a cathedral-sized chip on his shoulder. After they see Emma levitate, her parents reluctantly agree exorcism is their only option.
Despite the odd risible moment and an initially leisurely pace that will try the patience of those seeking pure shocks, the attempt to make it all plausible mostly works. Busy, handheld lensing with often natural light is effective, although the nonstop camera movement and jump cuts start to irritate. The superbly tranquil and daring final scene reps a delicious contrast.
Vavasseur is fine as the pouty Emma and physically gives it her all as the devil takes over her soul and her appearance. Though Emma doesn’t generate much sympathy, her “whatever” air of dirty-blonde, Gen-Y passivity communicates the sense that what’s happening to her is just one more thing about life this troubled teen doesn’t understand. There is something disturbing about how Emma’s parents restrict her freedoms, which plays nicely into the notion that the demon inside Emma is her family itself.
Other thesps are fine, though the script doesn’t allow them to uncover anything new. Billington, as the intense, good-looking Christopher, starts to look out of his depth at about the same time his character does.
Dialogue is sometimes leaden, as though translated into a dull, uninflected English register from Spanish, damaging the naturalistic air so carefully built elsewhere. Sound is full-on, oversignaling shocks and thus diminishing their impact. Pic’s prosaic Spanish title translates as “The Possession of Emma Evans.”