Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Exorcist

It seems like scary movies don't hold up that well. Psycho is one of Alfred Hitchock's most famous and popular movies, but it didn't do that much for me. The Night of the Living Dead and its sequels are staples of the zombie genre, but I enjoyed them less than more recent work. And The Exorcist received a ton of award attention and was considered one of the scariest movies ever - and it's really not a very scary film. It hardly even tries to be. As a film, it's a good one - well shot by William Friedkin and his crew, and well acted by the whole cast. The story is pretty intriguing, as a woman's life is turned upside down when her daughter seemingly becomes possessed after a priest apparently unearths some ancient evil, and he must cast it out along with another who is troubled by the death of his mother. It has some truly iconic imagery, and it's a pretty enjoyable movie.

But it's just not scary. It thankfully avoids cheap jump scares for the most part, relying on the simple horror of its story's events. But while those scenes are well put together, there's little about them that I found effectively horrifying or even that creepy. I wasn't filled with a sense of dread or worried about what would happen next. Almost all of the horror attempts to be derived from simple shock value, a shock that has essentially disappeared in the nearly forty years since the film was released. I mean yes, it's unusual to watch a young girl mutilating and defiling herself while swearing and blaspheming in a man's voice. But it's not really frightening. In the culture that existed when the movie was released, I'm sure it was surprising and controversial stuff. But it just doesn't work anymore. And there's some grotesqueness to the girl's appearance over time, sure, but it's not enough to turn the stomach today either. The Exorcist is lucky that it's actually a pretty good movie, because otherwise there wouldn't be much to say about it.

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