Daniel Stamm did modestly well by the found-footage exorcism picture The Last Exorcism in 2010 – though he didn’t make the redundantly-titled The Last Exorcism Part II (subtitled Sorry, We Should Have Been More Specific – Not Quite the Last Exorcism After All) and instead did a reasonable remake-of-a-foreign-horror-hit (13 Sins). Since then, he’s mostly done horror TV (Intruders, Scream, Fear the Walking Dead, etc) – and the fact that guest star Ben Cross died in 2020 suggests that this return to the exorcism well has been sat on a shelf during the pandemic, awaiting a Halloween release slot. One thing that was fresh about The Last Exorcism was that it dealt with a Protestant exorcist, but here we’re back in the murk of Catholicism as seen in almost every film in this cycle since The Exorcist kicked it all off nealry fifty years ago. The hook is that Sister Ann (Jacqueline Byers), survivor of a horrible childhood she puts down to her mother (Koyna Ruseva) being possessed by a demon, wants to break through a glass ceiling and become the first nun allowed to study for the traditionally male role of exorcism.
Set in a Catholic seminary/hospital in Boston, which means the bad guys of Spotlight are the good guys here, there’s a reel or so of dithering as teachinge exorcist Father Quinn (Colin Salmon), a cardinal (Cross), a tut-tutting nun who looks like she’s still worried about solving a problem like Maria, and contrasting classmates – ex-gangbanger Father Dante (Christian Navarro), preppy Father Raymond (Nicholas Ralph) – encourage or block Ann’s vocation. Then possessed little Natalie (Posy Taylor) draws Ann’s attention and goes through the all-too-familiar gamut of crawling on walls and ceilings, copying the facial look of Little Regan (in fifty years, no one has come up with an alternative possessee make-up?), doing CGI distortion things with her mouth and eyes, and generally spoiling for a fight with chanted rites. There’s a guessable revelation in store, but it all feels rote – intensely acted but rather unfelt. A few films – Ava’s Possessions, The Exorcism of God, Agnes, even The Last Exorcism – have brought something fresh to this tired cycle in recent years, but this falls in with the you’ve-seen-it-before-and-better school of religious horror.