Director: Alejandro Hidalgo
Cast: Will Beinbrink, María Gabriela de Faría, Joseph Marcell
Runtime: 1 hr 39 mins
Rating: R21 (Mature Content)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 28 April 2022
Synopsis: Father Peter Williams (Will Beinbrink), an American exorcist, becomes possessed by the Demon he was trying to expel from a young woman and is forced against his will to commit the most terrible sacrilege. Eighteen years later, trying to keep his guilt buried under charity work for the poor and the children in a small town of Mexico, Peter finds out that the demon has returned.
Before you dismiss it as yet another rip-off of ‘The Exorcism’, you should know that Venezuelan director Alejandro Hidalgo’s follow-up to his well-received 2013 genre-bending haunted house feature has much more on its mind. Indeed, even though its lead protagonist is a clergyman of the Catholic church, we dare say ‘The Exorcism of God’ is intended as a scathing critique on the church and even religion itself, demonstrating how either can be easily subverted by those of impure heart who do not practise what they preach.
One such person in question is our lead Father Peter Williams (Will Beinbrink), who still carries the guilt of a grave sin after failing to summon the courage to do the penance for his confession. That sin is set right from the beginning, which sees a young Father Williams deciding to perform an exorcism on a nun at the orphanage that he looks after, despite being warned by a fellow priest Father Michael Lewis (Joseph Marcell) that he lacks both the knowledge and training. As we witness in full shocking glory, the ceremony does not go well, concluding with the demon leaping from the nun to Father Williams and possessing him to commit an egregious sin.
To avoid controversy, we shan’t mention the specific act Father Williams commits, but suffice to say he never fully redeems himself even 18 years after the incident. In present day, Father Williams has moved to a remote village in Mexico, where he is regarded as a saint by his flock. That tranquillity is broken when some kids in the village begin to fall ill to an unknown disease, the answer of which becomes clear when Father Williams visits a hellhole penitentiary to examine a disturbed prisoner Esperanza (María Gabriela de Faría).
It should come as no surprise that Esperanza has everything to do with that fateful night 18 years ago, and that the demon possessing Esperanza is the same one that had possessed the nun previously. It should also be clear that Father Williams is the target of the possession this time round, and as we learn later on in the film, its intention is ultimately to get Father Williams to renounce God and to allow the devil to reside in his body. We won’t spoil the surprise at whether the demon known as Balban succeeds, but it’s a harrowing journey filled with unexpected twists and turns.
Oh yes, those expecting a straightforward exorcism picture may either be delighted or frustrated that the proceedings turn out a lot more complex than watching a pair of priests (one of the better judgments Father Williams exercises his second time round is to get Father Lewis to join him in the exorcism) trying to grapple with a vulgar, aggressive and manipulative young woman in the throes of an evil spirit. To be sure, it isn’t that the film ends up with more exposition than exorcism; rather, it plays with some of our assumptions behind the rite and goes to the heart of what is absolutely necessary in order for it to work.
Most intriguing is how it examines the role of the priest in the rite of exorcism – is the priest a vessel for God to triumph over Satan or is the priest acting as God? We’d admit that the script by Elik Alvarez and Yoncarlos Medina could be sharper in this regard, but it is fascinating watching Father Williams come to terms with what is needed for him to successfully perform the rite as it is to finally see the level of conviction required of God’s nature either way; and without giving too much away, we’d only reveal that one should bear in mind how Easter has shown that to truly live, one must first be willing to die for God.
So as overly predictable as the exorcism subgenre is, ‘The Exorcism of God’ digs deeper into the role of the priest in the ritual as well as the state he must necessarily be in. There is both method and purpose why the film offers us an imperfect man of God as its protagonist, and in Father Williams, we see not only our flaws but also our fears of having these flaws laid bare. More than the requisite jump-scares therefore, it is such fears that make this movie more terrifying than your typical exorcism horror. Its subject matter may prove offensive to some religious people, but there is no doubt about the deeper message that Matthew himself wrote in his Gospel – no one can serve two masters.
(Spiritually more complex than your typical exorcism horror, 'The Exorcism of God' examines what it takes to be the man in the cloth in order to defeat the devil)
Review by Gabriel Chong