Just your average, All-American, small town girl… possessed. Brought to us by Uncork’d Entertainment, American Exorcism premiers, On Demand, on the 2nd of May. A DVD release is to follow on the 1st of August.
American Exorcism has been written and directed by Tripp Weathers. It is produced by Thriller Films in association with Master Key Productions.
Damon Richter thought he left the world of possessions, exorcisms, and evil behind until an old friend arrives with frightening information about his estranged daughter knowing that only his otherworldly skills can save her.
Exorcism films are really hit and miss. Probably more miss to be honest. Modern attempts to harness the potency of William Peter Blatty’s, The Exorcist generally fail, with very few exceptions. The Last Exorcism isn’t completely terrible and The Conjuring is very good. On the other hand though we have the boring The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the pathetic The Last Exorcism 2 and abominations like The Unborn and The Haunting in Conneticut. The list of bad films that feature possession and exorcism is unending. It leaves me with little optimism going in to this one.
Still, when it is done right, it can be a truly terrifying subject for a film to focus on. Maybe I’ll get lucky with this one.
American Exorcism has a pretty simple plot. Main character Damon Richter, played by Michael Filipowich (Killswitch, 24) is persuaded to take part in one final exorcism much to the annoyance of his wife Janelle, played by Jessica Morris (Role Models, Rosewood). Damon and his team, led by Padre played by William McKinney (Blue Like Jazz) and assisted by Cy, played by Jennifer Lee Wiggins (Shapeshifter, I Am Omega) take on the demon successfully.
When they return home, they find that the demon has possessed Damon’s wife Janelle in revenge. Cy gets taken out and Damon’s daughter Caroline, played by Sicily Fontaine, is under threat. With Damon struggling to control the demon, Padre feels he has no choice but to draw his gun and shoot Janelle. Despite Padre feeling like he has no choice, shooting Damon’s wife effectively ends their relationship. Damon gives up helping with exorcisms and becomes a recluse while Caroline is taken away and put into foster care by Padre.
We jump into the future by about a decade. We see Padre hunt down Damon and explain to him that, as Caroline, now played by Kate Tumanova (Ribbons, El Freeman), is about to turn 18, he is worried she may have a demon inside her waiting to appear. Damon shrugs it off,. He refuses to trust Padre until Padre explains that a few dead bodies have started appearing around Caroline. The final persuasion comes when Padre admits he believes that the demon may be the same one that possessed Janelle ten years earlier.
Damon agrees to come and within a short time of being around Caroline’s new home, believes it all to be true thus starting a battle to save Caroline’s life. If it isn’t already too late.
As far as stories go, American Exorcism is pretty sound. Generic I guess but there isn’t anything spectacularly wrong with it. The problems come in other ways. Let’s start with the main man, Damon. Firstly, I have to say that I think Michael Filipowich as done a pretty remarkable job acting the part. He comes across troubled and sombre and switches to passionate and aggressive believably.
His performance is even more impressive considering the character he has to portray and the things he has to do. The story of how Damon ended up with the ability to exorcise demons is shaky at best. He was in Afghanistan when he was possessed. Luckily they found a guy in a cave who tried to exorcise the demon but buggered it up. This has left Damon as a half human/half demon with the power to draw other demons out of their hosts. The other thing is the method in which Damon fights/contacts demons which involves a lot of weird arm movements and odd throaty noises. It looks a little silly at times and makes you chuckle at a time of seriousness which kills the films momentum.
Damon’s power gives the film a fantasy feel, maybe a Constantine or something like that rather than a straight up religion vs demon horror. The CGI used on the demons and during the exorcisms to give glowing eyes and beams of light as Damon fights them looks cheap but actually works quite well. The biggest issue with American Exorcism is that it starts off really badly. The very first exorcism is a bit of a joke and ruins any hop you have for the film overall.
First, we have a priest with a gun. Now, I know this is America but surely no priest brings a gun to an exorcism. Secondly, the attempted exorcism looks so silly. The team of three repeatedly circle the possessed, claiming they want to help and then they take turns punching him in the face. Cy even does some sort of flip, gets his head locked between her thighs and head butts him. After essentially bullying the demon for a bit, Damon puts his hand on the guy and draws the demon out. Seriously, why did he not do that first?
That start really lowers your hopes for American Exorcism and despite there being a whole load of great moments afterwards, it doesn’t recover and is still dappled with silliness whenever it looks like recovery is happening. Moments like when Padre is trying to persuade Damon to come and help Caroline. He starts by stating that Caroline has become somewhat temperamental as she nears her 18th. As that doesn’t work, he adds that he is sure she has a demon in her because “he has a feeling”. Damon, much like me, is thinking “yeah, whatever mate”. Padre then unveils a picture of a murder scene and tells us that her friends and boyfriend are being brutally murdered. Really! You don’t think that would be the point to lead on? Why say you have a feeling, when you have a bloody photograph.
These points aside though, there are good things. Kate Tumanova is great as the temptress, siren like and possessed young woman seducing and then destroying her boyfriend. When she is full on possessed, cavorting around on the bed and shouting insults in a demonic voice, the weaker moments are almost forgotten. Almost. Janelle’s possession near the beginning is equally impressive and slightly disturbing. At the foster home, Caroline’s foster father Will, played by Braxton Davis (Death Factory) puts in a good but short shift as a non believer quickly turned believer.
Again this is diluted a bit by the comical, hapless Deputy Doug (Luke Wright). He is trying to question Caroline about the murder but makes a hash of everything he touches. He ends up handcuffed with his own handcuffs and then, shortly after, is despatched.
As a film, American Exorcism is by no means a complete disaster. There are good moments and some very good acting performances. Specifically from Michael Filipowich and Kate Tumanova. The story is okay. You just feel that it could have been so much better if one or two of the sillier moments had been tweaked. It can take a lot to build atmosphere and tension in a movie. It only takes a second for it all to be lost and that is what happens here.
Worth a watch if you literally have nothing else to watch but otherwise, I would give this one a miss. It may be worth a watch just to see the weird noises Damon makes though.