Early in this possession/exorcism movie, gothy teen Hannah (Madison Lintz) is surprised her friend Ashley (Sydney Sweeney) hasn’t seen The Exorcist (a movie made twenty-five years before either were born) and describes the ouija scene with Captain Howdy, acknowledging that after that foolish invitation to evil ‘Regan was fucked’. Later on, Hannah – a paranormal buff who has an EVP app on her phone – forgets the lesson she learned at the movies and instigates the séance that gets Ashley fucked over in exactly the same way – swearing, puking, bile, levitation, etc. It’s a testament to the power of William Friedkin’s film that – like Psycho, Night of the Living Dead, Jaws and The Blair Witch Project – it’s still being used as a template for dozens of films every year … but that also means invidual entries in the exor-cycle really need to come up with new ideas to stand out. This is a decently-acted, good-looking, well-paced film – if indifferently-scripted and very oddly edited – but it’s just an Exorcist copy, and not even demented in the way that, say, Italian quickies like Antecristo/The Tempter or Chi sei?/Devil Within Her/Beyond the Door are.
The original title (Tell Me Your Name) establishes that a major thread of the film is that the exorcist needs to gain power over the demon by learning its true name, but no answer is really forthcoming … and the forces of good are feeble enough even without this puzzle to solve. It has the feel of a film that was once much longer – and perhaps had several other plots – but has been cut down to fulfil exorcism expectations (fair enough – at least two of the Exorcist sequels have been down that route). It opens with onscreen text establishing story elements that are then reprised in the first half hour of the film and a prologue with young Ashley (Lia McHugh) and her sister Jordan (Kyla Deaver) huddled in a closet, terrorised by their British Dad (Mark Ashworth) … then cuts to the older Ashley moving in with her aunt Tanya (Jessica Barth) and clumsy establishment of a whole new backstory involving reunion with childhood pals, including a made-to-order boyfriend (Austin Filson), and some long-ago business between Tanya and her presumed dead sister Sarah (Heather DeVan). The new young reverend (Matt Dallas) is warned by the tippling older pastor (Bruce Davison) against poking into his handy collection of exorcism books. Hannah, who is admittedly lively, starts nagging Ashley into the sort of stunts that are liable to get her possessed, while Ashley has visions of her mother or – more likely – something goat-limbed, horned and glowy-eyed posing as her mother. A major scene involving Ashley freaking out in class is built up to and back-referenced but not included in the film. Ashley changes her clothes style from casual to slutty and at least one supporting character dies in a demon-influenced accident, setting up a very familiar last-reel confrontation between the barely-competent priests and the snarly, mocking demon (voiced by Barbara Goodson).
A coda finally comes up with a new idea, suggesting that if this does okay there’s potential for a sequel which would tread a less familiar path. Written by actress Heather DeVan and director Jason Devan (kid actor Tristan DeVan is in the cast list too), from a story Jason DeVan wrote with Dylan Matlock.