Friday, October 28, 2011

Requiem (2006)

Requiem is the most realistic exorcism movie I've ever seen. There are no demons (not explicitly, anyway), and although there are some emotionally intense scenes, it's more of a drama than a horror. But that's what makes it so intelligent. Unlike The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which was based on the same true story, Requiem's purpose is not to scare you with hellish visions of demonic possession, but rather to take a restrained and sensitive look at the situation and consider, without sensationalism, what may have actually happened.

In other exorcism movies, you hardly care at all about the girl being possessed, beyond the fact that she's innocent and being harrassed by the devil. In Requiem, we get a chance to meet the girl, named Michaela in this adaptation of the story, and observe how her condition develops. She suffers from epilepsy, and while there's enough ambiguity to preclude me from stating straight out that she was definitely not possessed, it's pretty clear that her problems were more physiological than spiritual in nature. But what makes this story so fascinating is that we get to see how this girl, Michaela, confronts her own condition, and how, even though her reluctance to rely on medical help (and I can't entirely blame her, considering how doctors are) in lieu of spiritual assistance may have contributed to her death, that she actually finds meaning in her possession, and perhaps died happy, believing she was a martyr for God.

Of course, it's sad, because given the proper psychiatric treatment, she may have lived a much fuller life. But the frightening thing is that a lot of what she believed in, and the arguments she used, I can relate to. The frustration of having to deal with being dealt a crappy hand by God, and wanting to believe - not that God doesn't love you - but that you are being tested in some way. That the desperation of your condition is the cost of being special in His eyes. That there's some kind of point to it. One must not neglect the psychological effect a physical condition can have on a person - even to the point of believing the medical condition is caused by a spiritual affliction. But again, I think this is where psychiatric intervention would have made a crucial difference in the outcome.

This is every bit the story I had wished The Exorcism of Emily Rose had been, after reading into the true story that inspired it. Although I anticipated a more obvious antagonism via the girl's parents and religious upbringing (though her mother was a significant problem), this film is not as critical against religious belief as I would have made it. In fact, the film doesn't seem to have a driving message at all - it is very passive in its presentation of the events, which I think serves it well. In the end, you get the sense that the filmmakers are trying only to emphasize the girl's struggle, in a way that shows her respect, without necessarily signing off on the things she believed in. (On the other hand, they do seem to de-emphasize the grueling nature of the exorcism process itself).

I feel like that's how I approach religious people in my life - I try to respect what their beliefs mean to them, without believing in them myself. And yet, the lingering tragedy of this story is the knowledge that this girl, though she may have found peace with her condition before her death, may have lived to accomplish so much more given the right opportunity. Yet in the end, it really was her choice, though we can argue how much that choice was influenced by the suggestions of those around her. (I totally spotted a poster for The Exorcist in the corner of one scene, which came out in Germany around the time that the true story occurred, and was said to have been a potential catalyst for the girl's behaviors).

All in all, Requiem is a very good dramatic horror, if I may call it that, that feels quite like a good arthouse film. Although the camera's a tad bit shaky at some parts, the characters are likable, the soundtrack is fantastic, and this novel approach to the very popular story of demonic possession and exorcism is quite compelling. I recommend it to those who are looking for something a little bit deeper than your typical scare film.


  1. Sounds like a really good movie, I may have to watch it. There is also a found footage adaption of this event called Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes. Unfortunately it's a hackneyed cash-in and is also considered the third in the Paranormal Entity series... And since the real tapes are actually available, a found footage adaption seems rather unnecessary. And that's coming from ME.

  2. I think you might like it. I may have actually seen a part of that other adaptation in a clip on youtube, although I had the impression it was more of a dramatization filmed for a documentary than an actual found footage film. Then again, that's pretty much what Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County was, at least in the form we first saw it, so maybe there's not much of a difference. That's weird though that it's considered to be part of the Paranormal Entity series. As for the real tapes, I think they're only audio, but even so, I have them cued up so I can sit down and listen to them sometime between now and Halloween.