Hasitha Fernando on the essential exorcism movies of the 21st century…
Every year the entertainment industry puts forth a few horror movies that concern exorcism and possession, and for the most part they are either easily forgettable or simply not worth your time. But every now and then, the creatively bankrupt bowels of Hollywood do manage to churn out something decent and thought provoking. So, with The Exorcist: Believer – a new chapter in the iconic Exorcist franchise – incoming this October, here are the essential exorcism films of the 21st century, in no particular order…
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
Over the years Scott Derrickson has crafted some premium chillers that are well worth your time and attention. However, it’s the genre filmmaker’s first foray into the world of horror, which also functioned as his directorial debut, that still remains his most memorable effort. The Exorcism of Emily Rose tells the harrowing tale of a young girl possessed by a demonic entity and the tragic incident that followed. Based partly on the real-life possession case of Annaliese Michel, the film opts for a more unorthodox approach by making a courtroom drama its focus and revisiting the events leading up to the exorcism through a series of terrifying flashbacks. An unconventional yet gripping horror drama that still packs a punch more than two decades later.
The Conjuring (2013)
Who would have thought that a modestly budgeted horror flick would serve as the launch pad for an entire universe of similarly themed films? But that is exactly what happened with the release of 2016’s The Conjuring. The craftsmanship of horror maestro James Wan, the movie marks the first instance that explore the supernatural case files of renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, convincingly brought to life by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. A slow-burn which ratchets up the tension until the spine-chilling climax, The Conjuring is an unforgettable viewing experience that will stay with you long after the credits roll.
Deliver Us from Evil (2014)
Deliver Us from Evil plays it smart, shifting the setting from gothic churches and dimly lit households to the chaotic urban sprawl of the Bronx. Helmed once again by horror auteur Scott Derrickson the movie loosely follows the daring exploits of NYPD sergeant Ralph Sarchie as he encounters the bizarre and unexplained, in his line of duty. Eric Bana dishes out a compelling performance as Sarchie, and he’s ably supported by an equally terrific Edgar Ramirez as Father Mendoza. Coming off as a cross between Training Day and The Exorcist, this nifty little piece boasts some solid scares and a decent story, so sit back and enjoy the ride.
The Possession (2012)
It’s not always that we come across a solid possession horror film that grapple with Jewish mythology but that’s exactly what we get with 2012’s The Possession. The story revolves around a young girl who stumbles across a haunted dybbuk box at a garage sale and the chaos it subsequently unleashes upon the family. The Walking Dead alum Jefferey Dean Morgan brings a lot of gravitas to the proceedings as an estranged father trying to make amends, while looking out for her young daughter, the unfortunate victim in the story. The film does tread familiar ground but throwing a different religion and culture into the mix certainly offers a refreshingly new experience.
The Last Exorcism (2010)
The found footage genre has birthed many an interesting horror film through the years, but by and large, most are sub-par efforts which employ the gimmick as a substitute for lazy storytelling. 2010’s The Last Exorcism, however, is that rare exorcism movie which works as a possession related film, as well as a found footage flick. The storyline maybe overtly familiar but it’s the bone chillingly visceral approach to the material, which brings to mind the brilliance of The Blair Witch Project, that makes this entry stand out.
The Wailing (2016)
Much has been said about this effort that hails from South Korea, but does it still live up to the hype? The answer is ‘Yes’ and then some. The story focuses on a police investigation which centers around a series of grisly murders and the arrival of a mysterious stranger. While The Wailing possesses tropes found in typical exorcism movies, that’s just the tip of the iceberg of this multi-layered drama, which juggles multiple horror genres deftly within an emotionally charged twisty-turny narrative. Deeply unsettling and utterly unforgettable The Wailing is a gem of a film, that certainly should be seen.
The Conjuring 2 (2016)
The sequel to the critically acclaimed James Wan flick The Conjuring, sees the Warrens once again tackling a supernatural entity – this time over in England. Basing the meat of the story on the real-life Enfield poltergeist affair of 1977, which received widespread attention at the time, Wan and his team of writers uses the opportunity – and the larger budget- to terrify audiences with some exemplary mix of old-school horror and modern genre sensibilities. The result? A fantastic chiller of the first water, that once again delivers on the scares and gives some delightful jolts.
Similar to The Exorcism of Emily Rose, this offering from Germany is heavily inspired by the 1976 case of Annaliese Michel who was allegedly possessed by six or more demonic entities. But where Requiem differs from Scott Derrickson’s effort is its stripped down, unglamorized approach which is the very antithesis of all things Hollywood. The success of the film rides solely on the performance of its talented lead Sandra Hüller and boy is she tremendous or what. If a naturalistic drama sans Hollywood frill is what you prefer, do reach out for this one.
The Cleansing Hour (2019)
A staged televised exorcism takes a darker turn in this found footage horror flick. Largely forgotten by audiences, The Cleansing Hour treads familiar grounds whilst subverting genre tropes in a smart and novel manner. Things do get bat-shit-crazy and dialed up to eleven in the final act, but the series of events that precede are expertly crafted, dripping with atmosphere and dread. If this flick doesn’t get your pulse pounding like a jackhammer, I honestly don’t know what will.
An unconventional pick to cap off this list, I’m sure, but 2005’s Constantine headlined by Keanu Reeves certainly deserves a mention here. I mean the film practically starts with an exorcism and more or less ends with one, so yeah why not? The movie earned mixed reviews when it debuted but has over the years, metamorphosed into a cult film with a sizeable following. Talks of a sequel do resurface from time to time, but nothing yet is written in stone. Here’s hoping that one day it’ll happen.
Hasitha Fernando is a part-time medical practitioner and full-time cinephile. Follow him on Twitter via @DoctorCinephile for regular updates on the world of entertainment.