It's hard, making horror movies rooted in faith; the genius of THE EXORCIST (1973) lies largely in its viscerally effective portrayal of the conflict between secular thinking and the sheer, primordial power of belief especially belief in evil and ancient rituals designed to keep it in check. Brian Helgeland's ecclesiastical thriller appears to be absolutely serious in its examination of the modern-day face off between a renegade priest and a heretical sin eater (more on that later), but its unremitting solemnity often drifts unintentionally into the realm of camp. Father Alex (Heath Ledger) belongs to the near-extinct order of the Carolingians, who embrace the beliefs and rituals of the traditional Catholic Church: He celebrates the mass in Latin, performs exorcisms and believes firmly in earthly manifestations of Satan's malevolence. The apparent suicide of elderly, excommunicated Father Dominic (Francesco Carnelutti), head of the Carolingian Order, brings Alex to Rome. He's accompanied by the unstable Mara (Shannyn Sossamon), whose unrequited love for Alex may be at the root of her suicidal impulses. Alex in turn loves Mara but sublimates his feelings to commitment to his priestly vow of celibacy. Convinced that the Church hierarchy is hiding something, Alex and his fellow Carolingian, Father Thomas (Mark Addy), begin their own investigation into Dominic's death. Their inquiries lead them to believe the officially discredited tradition of sin eating is being practiced in defiance of church doctrine, which states that only God can forgive. The blasphemous sin eater (there can be only one) cleanses stained souls by literally "eating" the sinners' transgressions. Alex and Thomas believe that this sin eater, who goes by the name of William Eden (Benno Furmann), murdered Father Dominic; their mission is secretly supported by ambitious Cardinal Driscoll (Peter Weller), who aspires to be the next pope. But the deeper Alex and Thomas pry into the netherworld of heretics, arcane knowledge and conspiracies within the ranks of the Catholic Church itself, the murkier matters become. While the actors try to play things straight-faced, they're defeated by Helgeland's screenplay and take refuge in old habits. Ledger swirls his cassock glamorously, while Weller is clearly concealing cloven hooves beneath his; Addy plays the fool and the one-note Sossamon is thoroughly annoying, as fey as Meg Tilly but without Tilly's redeeming faraway air. Their combined efforts are spectacularly silly when they mean to be solemn, while the film is consistantly dreary when it intends to be foreboding.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: R
- Review: It's hard, making horror movies rooted in faith; the genius of THE EXORCIST (1973) lies largely in its viscerally effective portrayal of the conflict between secular thinking and the sheer, primordial power of belief especially belief in evil and an… (more)