The Exorcism of God (2022) Casts Off Hypocrisy and Corruption in Traditional Possession Flick Setup
Title: The Exorcism of God
First Non-Festival Release: February 10, 2022 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Alejandro Hidalgo
Writer: Santiago Fernández Calvete, Alejandro Hidalgo
Runtime: 98 Minutes
Starring: Will Beinbrink, Joseph Marcell, María Gabriela de Faría
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Eighteen years after his exorcism of Magali (Irán Castillo), Father Peter (Will Beinbrink) must face off against the demon Balban (Johanna Winkel) once more in the small Mexican town he serves. This time, he has possessed the young Esperanza (María Gabriela de Faría) and is using his powers to choke out the lifeforce of children and prisoners across the village. He enlists the help of longtime mentor Father Michael (Joseph Marcell) and together they get to work on saving Esperanza’s soul. As he prepares for battle, however, he finds himself unable to shake the unforgivable sin he committed years ago during his initial fight with the demon.
Sharp commentary against institutional horrors and solid scares are only slightly dampened by overuse of tropes in The Exorcism of God.
Searing commentary of the Catholic Church is hidden behind traditional tropes and a few novel subversions of the exorcism subgenre. Much of the criticism I have seen lobbed at The Exorcism of God is rooted in perceived participation in various “isms.” Depiction, in this case, is not an endorsement of these ideas and attitudes. Father Peter is initially portrayed as troubled by his handling of the original exorcism that led to Esparanza’s possession. Quickly, the audience learns that more sinister things are afoot, as Father Peter is tempted to defile the very woman, he has developed feelings for and is claiming to help through exorcism.
His struggle is categorically rejected by those who benefit from the power he holds. Local community members know he has done much for their community by pulling in donations and being present in their children’s lives. The Church sees greatness in him and take every opportunity to express their pride in his abilities. Even the person he harmed most, Magali, has found it in herself to forgive him. In every corner of the film, people are putting this sinful priest on a pedestal despite not having the courage to admit his wrongdoings.
Father Peter is a textbook white savior that has the backing of powerful institutions, global and local, to sweep his indiscretions under the rug. He personifies the Catholic Church and its far reach across the globe, especially in Central and South American communities, which makes its small Mexican town location even more important. His influence and power allows him to continue the façade that he is their savior; he even believes it himself to justify his failures and maintain his position. Father Peter experiences character development in a way that others do not want to see: growth in the wrong direction. It’s not what people like to see happen in film, but it feels mighty realistic when scrutinizing real life.
What many might take issue with, is the idea that Father Peter has any of God in him at all. One of the central conflicts in the film is Balban and Father Peter’s struggle to exorcise each other and rid Esperanza of Balban and Father Peter of God. How can a godly man be xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, etc, critics decry? According to the faith depicted in the movie, he is an imperfect human, as all humans are, and is still capable of a knowing God and getting salvation (this is before he trades his soul, of course). Additionally, the Catholic Church is all of those things as well despite perpetuating those same crimes. It has a history of imposing its viewings on cultures and people they deem uncivilized, not allowing women to lead alongside men, and is notoriously homophobic. So, why is it a surprise that a demonically possessed priest delivers a homophobic sermon before discussing his plans to start a war with Heaven all the while getting permission from a Bishop to do so? The satire is so clear, it hurts.
There is even more that I could expound on but I would like to pivot back to the merits of the film.
The cast does a solid job with the material. Joseph Marcell’s performance stands out amongst the others. His wit and charm is infectious and his commanding of the screen makes his scenes more memorable. Otherwise, Will Beinbrink does a solid job portraying the more layered Father Peter. Little moments stick out throughout the film of breaks in his face or shivers in the hand, which makes for a satisfying watch. It all ends up tying back to the character development set up in the beginning.
Filmed with enough confidence and veneer, The Exorcism of God looks as polished as bigger budget ventures. A few choice camera angles and tricks help elevate some scare sequences to truly frightening levels. Deliberately paced with enough substance and action to keep the story feeling fresh, this possession film keeps the action going even when it slips into conventions. Some silliness peaks through the seriousness to the film’s detriment. Some effects are downright terrifying while others verge on the comical. Icons of Jesus and the Virgin Mary come to life and haunt their victims, which is quite unique consider the genre's comfort with defiling other imagery. The latter is done more convincingly, as the twitchy work done on the former renders most scenes with its utilization distracting at best.
Good exorcism films are hard to come by, as they are often churned out by the hundreds every year. The Exorcism of God updates the overdone tale by subverting expectations and crafting several memorable scares and scenes that do stick out compared to contemporary films. Its unfair reception feels like a product of an audience unwilling to accept good faith arguments and the hypercritical nature of short form, sentence-long review culture. While I feel the need to passionately defend films like The Exorcism of God, I do believe it has its detractors. When it leans into overdone tropes of exorcism films past and dishes out some spotty effects work, it makes that job harder. There may not be salvation when dealing with the devil, but there is plenty to exalt in The Exorcism of God.
Overall Score? 7/10