13 Exorcismos Movie Review (Spoilers Free)
When a naive teen believes to have been possessed after a simple séance, her rigorously religious parents force her to submit to a series of exorcisms.
Genre: Horror / Thriller
Director: Jacobo Martinéz
Cast: María Romanillos, Ruth Díaz, Urko Olazabal, Pablo Revuelta, Silma López, Daniel Arias, Alícia Falcó, Cristina Castaño & José Sacristán.
Run Time: 100 min.
US Release: N/A
UK Release: 11 March 2023 (Glasgow Film Festival)
German Release: 16 March 2023
Spain Release: 04 November 2022
Spanish cinema is among my favourite, not only does it usually contain captivating narratives, these pictures usually have delightful camera work, as well as solid performances. They also are pretty handy when it comes to the genre of horror, proven by [Rec] or El Orfanato. So I was pumped to see what they would bring to the exorcism subgenre. Having caught a screening this weekend, I left the cinema somewhat disappointed. This isn’t even in the same league as William Friedkin’s original of ‘73.
Upon the strange behaviour displayed by teenager Laura Villegas, after a naive séance, her family calls a Vatican-sanctioned exorcist to intervene in the case of demonic possession.
I need to confess that I did not know what to expect from this premise, as there is little promotional material on the net. I only found out about this movie thanks to IMDb and Filmstarts, with one single trailer on YouTube. The fact that it had six writers attached to the script did not forebode anything good, nevertheless, four of them were attached to Malaseña 32, another horror feature that was not half bad. Sadly, the screenplay is a mixed bag.
Right from the beginning, the plot tries to sell itself as a fictional tale that is based on real events. Borrowing heavily from Friedkin’s 1973 The Exorcist, down to a near copy of the finale, it never manages to reach the heights of that masterpiece. In fact, it barely scratches the pedestal the original is on. It then sprinkles in some elements from Carrie, as well as facets of psychological thrillers about mental illness. The issue is, it commits to none of those points, ending half-assed as it lets audiences decide what to believe.
Worst is that it makes no sense, as it leans heavily towards the possession story, adding the clichéd change of voice, levitation, puking, etc. It then shoehorns in a side plot, about a school psychologist investigating the case of lead Laura, believing that her visions are caused by hallucinations from drug abuse, mixed with alcohol. It also does not help that it paints the catholic church, the supposed heroes, as absolutely dislikeable. They couldn’t care less about the victim, as to the result of the exorcism.
It isn’t all bad! The general idea to counter the supernatural with rational scientific thinking, does have a certain appeal plus could make for a suspenseful psychological thriller in the right hands. The family drama cranks up the tension between our lead and her religious mother. Sadly, it doesn’t get the time needed to develop, instead breaking the pacing.
Conversations are sound, though, the dialogues inside the family, specifically between the daughter and parents, do sound a little wooden.
María Romanillos is cast as the main character Laura Villegas; a teenager, suffocated by her overly religious mother, who is trying to shield her from everything that might be a sin. Laura wants to enjoy her teenage years, as such defying her mother and sneaking out to meet with friends. As she becomes possessed, specific events make her turn introverted, feeling that she can’t open up to anyone. Romanillos sells those moments well, especially when her full possession comes to light. That said, her painful screams are not believable.
Urko Olazabal does give possibly the best performance of all, as Laura's father Thomás. He is kind and warm, trying to make her daughter understand why her mother acts the way she does. He doesn’t seem overly faithful, being most of the time undermined by his wife. Olazabal gives his best acting at the end when he needs to decide between the well-being of his daughter, or his faith in god.
Ruth Díaz gives the second worst impression in my opinion, as Laura’s mother Carmen Villegas. She is borderline abusive to her daughter, hogging her freedom. It seems as if her faith is more important to her than her family. Finally, we have José Sacristán, who does give the worst rendition, as priest Olmedo.
This is Jacobo Martínez’s feature debut, who is an accomplished director of photography, having worked on TV projects such as Velvet, Gran Hotel, just like Gran Reserva. As such, I was at least expecting a good-looking movie. While it is partially true, as Martínez uses his knowledge to create unusual compositions, it also makes use of the cheapest jumpscares, is poorly lit, as well as poorly structured. Then there is the last act, which is a mix of badly shaky handheld camera shots plus unpleasant close-ups.
Computer-generated graphics are used to create the imagery of the “demon”, but audiences never get to see the presence fully. It is mostly fragmented in reflections, distorted in the background, or as a shadow in the darkness. The poor lighting is possibly used to hide the bad quality of the VFX. That said, it does make good use of practical effects.
Verdict: Novice filmmaker Jacobo Martínez, presents us with a Spanish horror tale that tries a little too hard, at being the Castilian answer to the ‘73 supernatural flick The Exorcist - failing impressively in the process! With six writers working simultaneously on one script, the story felt like an amalgamation of several horror classics from the 70s/80s but doesn’t commit to any of those premises. While the conflict between religious belief and psychological logic is enticing, the conclusion to that facet of the screenplay is most disappointing. Then there is the interesting family aspect, which isn’t fleshed out enough, thus becoming a dragging weakness. The cast gives alright performances, yet aren’t perfect. The cinematography, however, is the real disappointment, as Martínez - an established DP - created a visually lacklustre picture to look at. All in all, this was rather disappointing. 13 Exorcisms obtains a 5.0 out of 10.
If you have a choice, skip this one and watch the original by William Friedkin! Should you have already seen it, leave a comment to let me know what you thought.