Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The Last Exorcism Part II has us thinking about other movies about possession.
It may be unfair to talk too broadly about the differences between Hollywood films and their European counterparts: Both are capable of crassness and grace, and the entire filmmaking models and expectations have little in common. But if someone were to make that argument, she could not do better than to cite the different approaches to the case of Anneliese Michel, a young woman from a strict German Catholic family who died after failed attempts to exorcise the demons supposedly possessing her body. The American version of the story—“loosely inspired”—is the full-on horror movie The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, which weighs the medical and religious aspects of the case in courtroom scenes that are like the Scopes Monkey Trial redux while flashing back to hyper-aggressive, Exorcist-style body-arching and demon voices. Incredibly, the film seems convinced that science has failed to account for an unaccountable religious phenomenon.
The German drama Requiem, by contrast, poses Anneliese’s case as a more grounded coming-of-age story that’s less interested in teasing out the “Is demon possession real or not?” question than showing what happens when religious dogma is applied to the cruel mysteries of the real world. Sandra Hüller is exceptionally good as a sheltered teenager who yearns to go to college over her mother’s objections. Her father proves more flexible, but Hüller’s past medical problems—including mysterious episodes that may or may not be epileptic—worry him, and those worries are borne out once she gets to college and starts experiencing terrible hallucinations. Director Hans-Christian Schmid leaves the true source of her maladies ambiguous, focusing instead on the more common internal struggle of someone trying to reconcile their sheltered religious upbringing with the excitement and overwhelming anxiety of the outside world. It’s the rare demon-possession movie where the person possessed is the most human and relatable.
Availability: Currently streaming on Netflix and available on DVD and for digital purchase.