Logline: A desperate mother goes to a priest to help her with the demonic possession of her 12-year old daughter.
Review: Often cited as the scariest film of all time, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist is a genuinely frightening film and a horror classic. Its effectiveness lies in its realistic depiction of inexplicable events. The film remains quite shocking even in today’s age when many viewers have been desensitized to sex and violence in films.
Inspired by a true incident of exorcism in Maryland, The Exorcist is based on the book by William Peter Blatty. Friedkin takes his time to develop two stories: one of a mother whose daughter is slowly stricken by abnormal and violent behavior and the other of a priest who is questioning his faith and dealing with the loss of his mother. These two stories converge toward the film’s gripping conclusion involving the exorcism. The film’s effects are remarkable and add an authenticity that cannot be duplicated.
Ellen Burstyn, an often overlooked but great actress, delivers a powerful performance as Chris MacNeil, the desperate mother. Linda Blair also delivers a stellar performance as the young girl, Regan, a role that must have been quite a challenge. Max von Sydow, having been through many internal and external battles with faith in Ingmar Bergman’s films, was a natural choice for Father Merrin, or the exorcist. Jason Miller and Lee J. Cobb are also great in their respective roles.
In the film’s most shocking and disturbing scene, Regan mutilates herself with a crucifix and turns her head three hundred and sixty degrees. Despite its shocks, the film does not overstate its horror and therein lies its effectiveness. The Exorcist is an experience: disturbing, thought provoking, and ultimately, unforgettable.
Rating (out of ****): ****