DIR: Marc Carrete
Written: Marc Carrete & Mike Hostench
Starring: Lluis Marco, Claudia Pons, Marta Belmonte, Pepo Blasco, Roser Bundo, Ramon Canals
Every year Sheffield’s Celluloid Screams have a secret film that isn’t revealed until it is time to roll. This all came about in the festival’s very first year when by a stroke of incredibly good fortune the organisers were offered a film that would prove to be something of a modern benchmark. The only proviso was that they had to keep it a secret until it was time to show it. Such was the marketing and the kind of buzz that was being created around this film the distributors wanted to keep a sense of the unknown about it. That film turned out to be the enormously successful Paranormal Activity. Every year since the festival has had a secret film, with somewhat mixed success from what I can gather. This year’s big secret was Asmodexia, an unusual and unnerving Exorcism thriller from Spain. It didn’t exactly elicit gasps of surprise or excitement as it was revealed but it proved to be an interesting and clever examination of religious extremism and the nature of good and evil.
Set over the course of five days the film follows Eloy De Palma (Marco) and his Granddaughter Alba (Pons) as they cross the darker parts of the Spanish countryside to perform Exorcisms on those afflicted by dark forces. They go from exorcism to exorcism, approaching the day when an event of major religious significance will occur. De Palma and Alba are received like saviours wherever they go, but in a world full of demons and darkness nothing is ever quite as it seems.
Ever since The Exorcist (1973) became the first and last word on cinematic exorcism film makers have been trying to recapture the essence and the sense of terror that film wrought. As a sub-genre the Possession/Exorcism film hasn’t always faired very well. Living under the shadow of the aforementioned grandfather of the genre they often fall short and feel tired and predictable. There are exceptions such as the underrated Exorcist 3 (1990) and the recent box office monolith The Conjuring (2013) but these are few and far between. So the question now is where does Asmodexia land in this particular movie minefield? Truthfully, it falls somewhere in the middle. It is neither the saviour the genre needs, nor is it as dull and disastrous as many others that have come before it. Asmodexia plays on themes of religious unrest and at its heart it has a character that is a zealot by nature.
Yet despite its seemingly Christian ideology the film achieves a sense of balance that The Exorcist also had and it doesn’t feel like it is preaching at you, more that it is teaching you how and why these people do what they do. It is steeped in atmosphere and its short running time means that it is well paced and doesn’t waste unnecessary amounts of celluloid with drawn out exposition. In fact this is one of Asmodexia’s biggest strengths. Despite its allusions to something incredibly complex the film is surprisingly simple in its execution meaning the action comes at you quite frequent and fast and it keeps its plotting free from convolution.
But despite all this it still feels like ground well -trodden and has a final twist that whilst entertainingly left-field, is flagged too early and unsurprising. The title alone will give away clues to what is really happening to those who know their demons. The film is also rarely really scary; atmospheric though it is it never rattles the bones and often seems to be going through the motions. But it still has a malevolent streak that just about gets it through, helping to smooth the films less assured edges. It also helps that the cast all bring their ‘A’ game and elevate the film beyond its humble ‘B’ movie origins. At its centre Lluis Marco and Claudia Pons give the film an engaging core, always walking a fine line between good and evil and helping the audience believe in their crusade.
In the end Asmodexia is a pretty decent flick that aspires to greater things than it ultimately achieves. However it has enough going for it to make it worth its brief running time, and despite the fact that it sign-posts its final twist a bit too soon, it does end on a wonderfully blasphemous note that will leave a wicked grin on your face as the credits roll.