Bit of a long break there, back to work!
In keeping with the spirit of this blog, and considering how Halloween is over i thought i might as well review something that was topical, so lets go for the so called “scariest movie ever made” shall we?
The first thing that might strike someone who is watching this film for the first time is how long it takes to get going, indeed this film is the very definition of a “slow burn”, and its this slow pace that serves as it’s biggest advantage. Even though i had watched it before segments like the attic scene, or the scene where Chris comes home to an empty house manage to make my heart thump even though nothing happens. I also find that the slow pacing makes the various possession scenes all the more impactful when they do arrive.
The mundane scenes and shots that fill up the first 1/2 hour of the film offer no hint to the physical and emotional violence that fills the initial possession scenes. Indeed the slow pacing allows my expectations of what may happen to grow while slowly and logically replacing them with the shocking reality of the events; and even when the action does happen it is carefully spaced out between more character and plot developments, and ramped up to more and more disturbing levels just as slowly as the rest of the film plays out. I find that this for me is more successful in generating fear in me, as something like the remake of The Evil Dead starts with a scene that is so brutal and over the top that it has an effect of nullifying anything else that comes after it*.
Slow pacing however is not conducive to the building of tone however, and thankfully the film makers understand that fully. Disturbing sound design, flash frames, and emphasis on emotional turmoil all serve to strengthen the more typical monster movie scenes. Scenes like Father Karras’ dream, or the various hospital visits remain disturbing for their successful building and maintaining of the tone established in the opening sequence.
It must also be mentioned that slow pacing also would be for naught if there was no compelling drama and performances to be had in the film. Thankfully it has both, as the possession acts as a literal test of faith for the troubled Father Karas and personifies the emotional and spiritual conflict present within the story itself.
While the slow pace of the movie does indeed provide the film with its biggest strength, it does however provide its biggest weakness. There is a lot of fat that can be trimmed if one were too look at making the film shorter. The subplot of the investigation of the film director’s sudden death, and all the scenes involving Lt. William Kinderman would be the first thing to get the shears if i were in the editing chair. The film’s prolonged prologue sequence could also have been trimmed down by a full five minutes and wouldn’t have suffered in its foreshadowing of plot and character motivations.
The film i suspect will also fall victim to its own hype, as lets face it who hasn’t heard of The Exorcist or hasn’t seen or experienced its impact in some way. In fact while story tropes (such as “The Dragon) existed in a literary sense (and even before that when we told stories around the camp fire) for many many years there seems to be one project in film that puts a name to all of them. A viewer might have the impression of Deja Vu watching this film, as the lion share of exorcist films (Insidious, The Conjuring, The Rite, The Possession, etc etc etc) follow its basic format. So i couldn’t’ really blame someone who came out of this film wondering what the big deal was.
There’s a reason why The Exorcist endures as a horror classic. It is a slow and deliberate movie that uses its running time to build into a horrifying and provocative drama, and while it might just be a bit too slow for some it nonetheless is an ultimately satisfying experience.
*indeed i hungrily ate my delicious chicken wings while this scene played out, in fact i ate through the whole thing and laughed a couple of times wondering how anyone could find this scary.