Let’s face it William Friedkin put a creative cap on all devil possession movies when he created The Exorcist back in 1973. That film has become canonized and any writer or director who attempts to freshen the pot must look to that film for inspiration lest they plagiarize it.
A pop demon to me is a rock star of sorts; a diva. It confines its victims to a space, usually a bed, or chair and from there toys with caregivers who seek to defeat it. All the while, popping bones, spewing punchlines through purulence and speaking in obscenities.
Friedkin’s Pazuzu meets all the criteria, he’s truly a demonic celebrity.
There is a reason no serious possession film has had the lead’s head spin around or take a crucifix to the uterus; Friedkin (Maybe Craven with Krueger) set the bar for his pop star–end of story, although intrepid filmmakers continually try but fail to update The Exorcist’s formula no matter how hard they work, they only pale in comparison.
Take for instance “The Possession of Hannah Grace” which opened to bad reviews and okay revenues, garnering $2.56 million on Friday. That’s probably the best it will do for a one-day total.
This seems to be the pattern–and hopefully the end of movies–that fall into this ilk, and horror fans are exhausted as their eyes roll back into their head when another film with the word “possession” or “exorcism” is released.
With such a surplus, only a few filmmakers successfully inject some originality into the trope. James Wan made Insidious (2008) and The Conjuring (2013), the former took us inside the big box retailer of pop demons, while the latter brought the horror into a nuclear family.
Wan’s stylized camerawork and atmosphere were enough to win audiences over to make a few sequels and even an entire universe. But the formula has since evolved. Take note of The Nun’s box-office success, but subsequent dismal word-of-mouth.
Game changer Adam Robitel took a risk in 2014. The Taking of Deborah Logan was a film that put the nuance on the possession not on the monster. This time the lead suffered from Alzheimer’s disease as the entity slowly consumed her. Robitel created a final image so indelible it catapulted him from indie to mainstream almost overnight.
In one of this year’s best films, Ari Aster’s Hereditary, showed us a stunning example of how modern audiences react to possession films. Social media horror “critics” hated it, dismissing it, while others are still reeling from that final scene.
What Robitel and Aster did was remove the Freidkin pop demon altogether, their monsters did not manifest with pustules, blue skin or eerie contact lenses, instead, they slowly took over the host who appeared outwardly normal, even functioning in public.
That’s not to say some mechanisms are removed altogether. Jump scares are still in play, they just aren’t the primary source of fright. After all, demons need their moments too.
But with movies such as The Devil Inside, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Last Exorcism, The Possession, and now The Possession of Hannah Grace, we get the Ikea brand of assembly instructions. Take an innocent person, add a celebrity demon with a cool name, mix in some bone-cracking special effects framed in indigo and serve with a trailer that highlights all of the above.
If you’re a filmmaker and reading this, it’s not that I don’t want another pop star demon in the genre, by all means create the next Fred Krueger, — we need one ASAP!
Just bring it out into the real world already, or bound them to the body but find a different way to expose their powers other than hiring a contortionist or CGI master to do all the heavy lifting.
Or if you want to take a really big risk, retcon that bitch The Exorcist rather than try to copy it. Don’t bury it under another “situation” for safety reasons.
For now 2019 seems to be void of any movies with the word “possession” or “exorcism” in the title. There is The Grudge but at least that has the balls to be a remake only 14 years after the original.
And Kayako is definitely a pop demon; an ethereal diva. But she isn’t afraid to come out of her victims to see the world she left behind. Friedkin will be amused.