Spanish Movies

Exorcismus (2010)

Exorcismus (aka La posesión de Emma Evans) is a 2010 Spanish horror movie set in the warm, tropical climate of London, circa now. Emma Hawkins (Sophie Vavasseur) is your everyday average teenager living with her family in white collar suburbia. At her mother’s insistence, Emma and her brother are home-tutored by their academic father, meaning Emma’s only contact with the outside world are two friends, one from a local high school and the other from university. So your usual everyday teenager trapped in TARDIS like house with caring, but clinically logical parents. After an act of self-harm, which she hides from her family, Emma begins to experience fits and display behaviour unbecoming of a future Oxford graduate. Namely, seducing her female friend, attempting to drown her brother in the bath and killing her psychologist. Before long, Emma’s mother is calling in her own brother, who just so happens to be a priest, to help exorcise Emma.

Is a lot of this sounding familiar? Well, it should. Exorcismus is without contest, one of the most unoriginal pieces of work to come out of the horror genre. It works like a greatest hit package of clichés. A horror movie designed by committee. Any scares that could be wrung out of this genre sponge have worked better elsewhere. Namely The Exorcist.

Whilst it’s lazy journalism to compare any exorcism movie with William Friedkin’s masterpiece, when you’re faced with a film that’s essentially cherry picking the best moments and trying to repackage them Rola-Cola style, it’s really hard not to. Everything that was seen in Max von Sydow’s fight with Pazuzu is dipped in bleach, scrubbed down and put back on display as The Exorcist, but you know for kids.

Body contortion, echoes of ‘Can you help out an old altar boy, Fadder?’ and even Regan’s grounded nightmare in the hospital all raise their heads and make you aware that you could really be watching something a lot better at this present moment in time. There are attempts at surprises along the way, but they serve no other purpose than making this critic really angry. Useless, pointless attempts at shock that raise nothing more than a titter. This really is a bad film.

Vavasseur is thoroughly game as the tortured soul of Emma. Throwing herself into the role, she is wide-eyed innocence one minute and black-eyed vixen the next; she easily convinces that there are two forces at work inside her young mind. It’s a shame more can’t be said for Stephen Billington as her uncle; a priest hiding a terrible secret, who has faced this particular demon before and hopes this time he will be given some closure (Sorry, have we mentioned this like The Exorcist?). Billington walks around smoldering with such success that I’ve no doubt he can set many a housewife heart aflame, but as a world-weary priest, he fails miserably. The only subtlety in his performance comes from whispering every line to suggest ‘Hey! This is pretty hard for me you know. Being a priest and everything’.

It’s not good walking away from a film and being angry at the whole genre it comes from. The last time we felt like this was the appalling Brit-horror, F. However, the fact of the matter is that Exorcismus is one of the worst examples of horror in the last ten years; a boil in the bag horror for people who don’t know any better. Do yourself a favour, if this film comes round to visit, feign death and the early stages of rigarmortis until it gets the message and goes home. It sounds like a lot of effort, but you will ultimately be happier for having done so.

The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito) (2011)

Ace surgeon, Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), has spent half a dozen years holed up in his home/surgery developing, what he claims, is a skin that cannot burn. Aside from a few colleagues he talks to at work functions and presentations, he spends the majority of his time with his maid, Marilia, and a woman called Vera (Elena Anaya). The latter he keeps locked in a room next his bedroom and on whom he conducts his skin experiments. To say anymore would do the film no real justice.The Skin I Live In is macabre melodrama that reaches out to sci-fi with one hand and strokes the cheek of horror with the other. And, like the previous sentence, it’s a little bit pretentious. Only a bit mind.

The film is broken up into three definable acts. The first comes across as a hurricane of information. People shout, point, run in and out rooms, get raped, shout some more, get shot and then finish off the day shouting. It does what it was in doubt intended to do; grab you by the throat and encourage you to pay attention. The second act is a slower affair detailing the events that led to all the shouting, shooting and pointing. Like coming off the motorway onto a residential street, the change of gear is noticeable and somewhat jarring, but before long Banderas becomes brooding and psychotic and your throat is grabbed again. The final and shortest act can be seen as a bit of a let down. Vera’s story ends in such an understated manner that you feel a little bit cheated. Oh yes, there’s more shouting and pointing, but it doesn’t last very long.

Opening with Anaya performing yoga, Pedro Almodóvar ensures that his leads are immaculate and that each scene they’re in is equally beautiful. The beauty of the photography reflecting  Ledgard’s quest for perfection, whilst, like Vera, hiding the layers of revenge and violence beneath. The Skin I Live In is not an easy film to watch from a moralistic point of view. With the exception of Roberto Álamo as Marilia’s demented son, no one is entirely good or bad. Banderas, himself, goes from sympathetic to repulsive to sympathetic a number of times, whilst the reveal of Vera’s backstory will have you pondering which side you’re on long after the film has finished.

Overall, The Skin I Live In is one of the last great films of 2011 and 2012 will hopefully see it get some more recognition.