Bound, gagged and tied to a cross, sister Adelina was found dead, malnourished and dehydrated in the bucolic village of Tanacu, Romania.
The real-life mystery surrounding the nun’s death was highly publicized, inspiring another film Beyond the Hills in 2013. It is also the subject of Lionsgate’s new effective horror mystery The Crucifixion.
The names have been changed in this update and of course, certain supernatural liberties have been taken to portray what happened to sister Adelina, but the outcome is both entertaining and well-crafted.
Young American reporter Nicole Rawlins (Sophie Cookson) is intrepid indeed. Upon hearing of the nun’s murder she implores her editor to allow her to travel to the Romanian outback in order to find out why Father Anton would crucify a member of his own parish.
After some convincing, her pitch is approved and off she goes to the foreign hillside to develop her story.
But this is no ordinary story. Villagers are not exactly welcoming to her as she meets with clergy who deny that father Anton was performing an exorcism on sister Adeline; he was just plain crazy.
This fits into agnostic Nicole’s initial hypothesis, but as she investigates further these beliefs begin to unravel.
Amid the gorgeously photographed landscape and centuries-old buildings, Nicole meets faith leaders in the village, but they offer no confirmation about the nature of the exorcism, her only lead, in the beginning, is in meeting with the killer priest, Father Anton, himself.
Of course, Anton not only justifies his acts but notices that Nicole is struggling with her own faith which may put her in danger too.
He explains the demon escaped before he had time to finish the ritual and is currently looking for its next host by way of transference, Nicole being just vulnerable enough to serve that role.
The Crucifixion concentrates on the supernatural side of things forgoing father Anton’s phycological state and that of the victim who in the real case was accused of suffering from schizophrenia, her death a result of a violent episode.
The reporter’s second insight comes from Adelina’s friend and roommate Vaduva (Brittany Ashworth) who was alongside her during some unsettling and unexplained phenomena which drove a wedge between them.
Nicole begins to change during her investigation too, seeing visions, having sexual dreams about the handsome hirsute priest and struggling to drink wine because flies keep drowning in her glass.
Doors open and close by themselves, candles extinguish by invisible breath, and suddenly Nicole’s backstory comes into focus as we discover the real reason she has lost her faith, and perhaps the motivation behind her news piece.
That revelation puts her at a compromise and is the perfect entry point for the demon. Nicole is being stalked by it, exhibiting the first of four signs in the playbook of demonic possession.
As a mystery The Crucifixion moves along at a steady pace, new clues are discovered but the real answers remain hidden until an “in-case-you-missed-it” recap that preps you for the denouement.
Up until that point, the film keeps things mysterious, atmospheric and thought-provoking throughout, with the final 30-minutes packing an incorporeal wallop.
Director Xavier Gens isn’t objective in his treatment of the story, neither is the script. And for that reason, the tale unfolds toward a predictable end.
But this cerebral and entertaining film begins with scattered parts of a puzzle and through its assembly gives the final piece more weight and therefore a satisfying conclusion. That is in part thanks to the leading lady who treats the material with a heavy hand and developed acting chops.
Sophie Cookson is wonderful as the unobjective journalist who breaks laws, disregards religious sanctity to pursue her story at any cost. Her acting here is the perfect blend of scorn against faith and her coup against God.
By the end of The Crucifixion, viewers may discover they have seen it all before. But with its gorgeous and foreboding location, wonderful acting and an effective supernatural potboiler mystery, they probably won’t see this side of it done better anywhere else.
The Crucifixion will hit theaters and On Demand October 6, 2017.