After an unsuccessful exorcism ends with the death of its subject (Jennifer Carpenter in the title role), priest Tom Wilkinson is charged with negligent homicide. The prosecutor is a devout Christian (Campbell Scott). Wilkinson’s lawyer is the agnostic Laura Linney. As the court battle progresses, we witness Carpenter’s story in flashback, with her possession beginning while she’s away from home in college. Linney, at first dismissive of Wilkinson’s claims, gradually finds her peace of mind …rumbling as she begins to witness strange events.
The film must, if nothing else, be given points for ambition. It tries to walk a very fine line – is the possession real, or is there a scientific explanation for what is going on. The problem is that this is a horror film, and I’m not convinced this ambiguity entirely works in the film’s favour. The message it sends out is very mixed, as if the film didn’t have a clear thesis. It has been accused of being at least as big a proselytizer as The Passion of the Christ, and while there is a lot to this, there is still a certain hedging of the bets. A confused work, then. The exorcism scene is itself rather anticlimactic, but the possession sequences (which naturally happen when the virtuous farm girl – read Red State – ventures into the secular university – read Blue State) are, at times, very effective.
No small part of the successful scares in the film are thanks to the sound. The bass is excellent, the rumble of the music building gooseflesh. The environmental effects are also very good, very immersive. So the wind of the opening, or the babble in a bar, and so on, are all striking, plunging the viewer into the film. There are plenty of great “boo” effects as well. The dialogue is clear and undistorted. No complaints for the sound, then. The mix is absolutely first-rate.
No complaints here, either. Many of the scenes are very dark, and it wouldn’t have taken much for the transfer to lapse into murkiness. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen, no matter how low key the lighting is. The colours are strong (not in the sense of vibrancy, since this isn’t that kind of movie, but in the sense that they are always distinguishable and never muddy). The blacks are excellent, the image is sharp, and there is no grain.
The commentary, by director/co-writer Scott Derrickson, is intelligent. It gets into plenty of technical details, but never forsakes the thematic concerns. The 3-part featurette goes over some of the same ground as the commentary, but at an hour long is much more in-depth than most featurettes are. There is one deleted scene (with optional commentary) and 13 (count ‘em) trailers. The menu’s main screen, intro and transitions are animated and scored.
I will admit that this is one of those films about which I might change my mind in times to come. It does, to its credit, have ideas in its head. Whether those ideas are coherent is another matter. Consider the star rating of the film itself provisional.
Special Features List
- Director’s Commentary
- Multi-Part Featurette
- Deleted Scene with Commentary