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John’s Horror Corner: The Crucifixion (2017), Xavier Gens’ exorcism movie that delivers all the gorgeous shots but none of the desired dread.

November 21, 2018

MY CALL: This is a well-made exorcism film featuring nothing we haven’t seen before and falling short of the desired and deserving atmospheric dread. But the jump scares are fun, it’s well edited and it’s gorgeously shot. So there’s that. MOVIES LIKE The Crucifixion: For more stylish exorcism movies, you should try The Last Exorcism (2010), The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), and of course The Exorcist (1973).

Inspired by true events, this film opens with the type of scene we’ve all inevitably seen before (and many times over). Desperate clergymen rush through cathedral hallways with a restrained woman, eyes infernally blackened and feral, thrashing about and spitting poison. Crucifixes break, candles flicker, priests desperately chant, and the woman groans in agony with dark veins spiderwebbing her neck. There’s nothing innovative about the content here, but the camerawork is on point, the set design is elaborate, the colors are crisp even if bleak of palette, and the wardrobe was impressive. The blood was just enough to convey suffering (and did so effectively), but nothing beyond the reach of reality. Even if old hat, this is a very well-executed scene. Still… I find myself expecting more from Xavier Gens, a filmmaker who typically wows me.

Afterwards the priest and nuns participating in the exorcism are arrested for homicide. Intrigued by the story, reporter Nicole (Sophie Cookson; The Huntsman: Winter’s War) travels to Romania to interview the exorcist and investigate the story with the help of his clergy colleague Father Anton (Corneliu Ulici; The Devil Inside, Wer).

Supernatural events start slowly—candles blow out and doors shift without reason. Eventually we graduate to spiders emerging from nostrils and even pubic regions, expected telekinesis tropes, and raining indoors (which makes for a gorgeous yet uneasing scene).

This film is really shot well! But the horror was really just a bunch of loud screaming jump scares. I felt like I was seeing “just another exorcism movie” in the hands of someone with a better eye for the camera and staging. But despite the visuals, excellent editing and storytelling, there was simply nothing here I hadn’t seen several times over. Moreover, none of these common themes were presented any differently than I had seen before barring minor flavor components (e.g., raining inside). Even the majority of exorcism and possession scenes felt “standard.” I should be reeling during exorcism scenes and horrified by the actions of the possessed—but not here. Not beyond an occasional jump scare. It’s as if Xavier Gens accepted this job simply to cash a paycheck. And I mean this not to be mean, but simply to be critical of a brilliant filmmaker who has so impressed me in the past. Normally I take no pity on my review subjects, but today I feel a loss.

This (for me, personally) was a real bummer since I’m a big fan of Xavier Gens. The man has vision and a knack for reaching well beyond my expectations. I recall seeing The Rite (2011) and thinking it was pretty average and disappointing. I now yearn for The Rite (2011). We even briefly see creature actor Javier Botet (Mara, ItThe Conjuring 2REC 4MamaThe MummyCrimson Peak), but not enough for his skill to make any impact. The most distinct scene separating this film from the subgenre would clearly be the horrifying moment when we see spiderlings swarming the possessed’s crotch. I’ll give Gens that much, he really got me there! That was delightfully awful. That, and that indoor rain.

My greatest disappointment was that the finale exorcism was so uneventful and short compared to the longer (better), more drawn out exorcism of the nun in the beginning (and flashbacked throughout the film). Even if one were to find excitement in the initial exorcism, the final exorcism could only disappoint by comparison, and then… everything was just fine.

Director Xavier Gens (Frontiers, Cold Skin) and writers Chad and Carey Hayes (The Conjuring 1-2, The Reaping) form a serious team. I only wish their skills could have shone here.

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