A reluctant, but skilled exorcist is at the centre of this dark, deadpan horror about life, death and what possesses us in between.
With a title as tongue-in-cheek as Accidental Exorcist, I must admit that I was expecting a dish far funnier than what was served. In the best possible way, however, Accidental Exorcist proved me wrong as it presented an obviously whimsical, but strangely melancholy tale of possession that felt more Evil Dead than Shaun of the Dead.
The possession genre is a tired and overused one, with The Exorcist always managing to secure itself as the elephant in the room and remind us that what we’re watching is never going to be better than the William Friedkin classic. The same goes for Accidental Exorcist, but rather than attempting to channel what made the 1973 masterpiece so perfect, the film opts for a knowingly different route to try and surpass at least some, of the elements typically associated with films of this type. What we have here is not one family’s terrible tale of possession, but many. The focus is not on the possessed, but on the exorcist and, for once, there’s not a priest in sight – not in the sense that you might expect, anyway. Accidental Exorcist proves that there is life in this breed that has, understandably, been presumed dead and buried; only rising to incite misery upon its audience.
The accidental exorcist himself is Richard Vanuk (played by the film’s director Daniel Falicki), a man who had his abilities with the supernatural thrust upon him at birth. He has since devoted his life to freeing the innocent from their possessions, ignoring his own inner demons and becoming a drunken mess of a man who has, quite literally, become a walking embodiment of the ugliness he banishes to hell. Director Falicki does wonders behind and in front of the camera, his vision of a painful existence coming across both in his acting and the film’s technical decisions. Falicki brings Richard to life with an abundance of intensity and vigor, making it impossible not to be gripped by his eccentric personality. He moves seamlessly from feeling to feeling, creating a believable, unique and captivating character. Obviously the blood-shot eyes, greasy hair and constant layer of sweat on his face help cement him as a man on the edge of mania, but Falicki’s natural and dedicated performance is perfect at pushing Richard to the brink of insanity, but ensuring that the audience will always relate to him.
Richard lives alone in an unkempt apartment that is dominated by dark grey walls, empty bottles of alcohol and general disarray. Channelling a world that would make David Cronenberg proud, Richard’s world is gloomy and lifeless, far away from the luminous existence that you would expect from living such a rewarding life. Coupled with this dreary set design is a contrastingly beautiful use of lighting that varies from light blues, purples and oranges to harsh whites. Sometimes the lights flicker dangerously in the background, hinting at the danger that is to come, but sometimes they purely represent the light in Richard’s life. Despite the overwhelming unhappiness that he feels, he’s doing work that is good and has meaning. He tries his hand at ‘normal’ office job – another marvellously unnerving scene that draws us into Richard’s complex mind through brash editing and severe sound design– and, in short, it doesn’t go well. Rather than being showered with good karma and peace, Richard is plagued by gruesome stigmata and a reliance on alcohol, painting an appropriately depressing portrait of what it would be like to be surrounded by literal and emotional demons.
Richard travels from home to home, exorcising a host of different people that have demons residing within. From young girls, to middle-aged men, nobody appears to be safe in this unusual world that has seen a rise in demonic possession. The humour within Accidental Exorcist is perfectly pitch-black and it took me a while to conclude that this is a comedy and not something that is intentionally trying to give me nightmares. There is an unmissable tongue-in-cheek tone to the film’s events as books fly off bookcases and the possessed float supernaturally along the floor. A particular scene sees Richard dine with one of his possessed patients and the two converse – sort of – about mashed potatoes, peas and tapioca. The clashing of horror and humour come together in this perfect moment with the harsh truth of Richard’s loneliness looming in the background; his meaningful conversations with regular people are limited and he seems more at ease chatting with a demonic entity. This effective and effortless blend of sadness and comedy is a striking aspect of Accidental Exorcist and cements it as an unforgettable feature filled with intelligence and shocks, but a much-needed sprinkle of fun to prevent it from being melodramatic.
In terms of horror, the first possession we witness is wonderfully and surprisingly disgusting. This is the moment where all my preconceptions were thrown out the window, because instead of being greeted with a hilarious depiction of someone possessed, we are introduced to a teenage girl who looks freaking terrifying. Her eyes are pure black, her skin is patched with purple bruising and her hair hangs limp and sweat-drenched down the side of her face. She’s breathing fast and heavily and vomit slowly oozes from her lips. There’s no ridiculous inciting of Latin backwards or the voice of an old man, there’s no hurling of religious abuse or sinister laughter… It’s just pure and simply scary and I had no idea what was going to happen. Richard starts to tell a strange story about horses and his desire for control, provoking the demon and triggering the girl’s breathing to increase and the sinister score to intensify. As an audience we know that something is about to happen and it sure ain’t going to be pretty. This immediate deviation from expectations is jarring and unexpected, but entirely fascinating and gripping.
Accidental Exorcist is a refreshingly miserable and downbeat horror that is not without its wit, showing that demons can be found in more bodies than the adolescent female’s and in more homes than the nuclear family’s. If you like your horror to be strange, unsettling and, most importantly, a bit gross, then Accidental Exorcist is definitely something you should keep your eyes out for.
Words: Jessy Williams (@JessyCritical)