The Exorcist was a huge success, and filmmakers jumped all over that bandwagon. Actresses spent the following half-decade either becoming possessed or forced to give birth to the devil's child or some other kind of monstrous kid. These movies were usually quick, cheap knockoffs. It doesn't seem that many filmmakers found the subject inspiring, but they made the movies anyway.
A generation later, there has been a wave of newer films on the subject. Exorcismus is one such example. A Spanish production set in London with a mostly British cast, it is well-acted and -produced but is rather generic in terms of plotline. The makers of Exorcismus may not have set out to create a virtual remake of The Exorcist, but they adhere so closely to so many of the latter's plot points that there's really no other way to consider it. In classical music, there's something called "Theme and variations:" a melody, often very simple, is followed by a series of pieces that are increasingly complex versions of the original. Maybe it's fair to call Exorcismus a simplified variation on the Exorcist theme.
The most important difference between the two films is that Exorcismus is told from the point of view of Emma, the possessed girl. The demon of The Exorcist invaded a child's world. Regan was twelve, the age where innocence begins to give way to adolescence and all of its accompanying problems. It is still a world removed, but adolescent concerns are closer to those of adults. Emma is fifteen, an age more relatable to the adult mind.
This is not to say that Emma herself is adult. She is pouty and whiny, and the movie opens with an apparent self-mutilation cutting. Her overprotective parents home-school her and shelter her from contact with her peers. Emma resents this: She is well-liked by her friends and would like to spend more time with them.
As in The Exorcist, strangeness creeps in slowly. The home, that symbol of family values and security, showed the first symptoms in the original. Strange noises were heard and furniture moved on its own. In Exorcismus, Emma kicks off the action with a seizure. This is followed by blackouts and other bizarre behavior, and she, like Regan before, is examined by doctors and psychiatrists, one of whom comes to harm.
Emma is somewhat fascinated with her uncle, Chris. He is a priest who has positioned himself as Emma's listening ear. Like the Exorcist priests, he is compromised, though in a different way: He was involved in a failed exorcism and is now barred from participating in any such rituals. Emma suspects that she might be possessed, but her family and friends dismiss the idea and assume that Chris has planted it in her head.
Emma's behavior becomes increasingly violent, and she alienates her friends and family. Her family are atheists, but they nevertheless decide that it's time to bring Chris in for an exorcism. He brings along a video camera, ostensibly to support his decision to perform the ceremony should the church find out about it.
This is where the two films finally diverge. The Exorcist is very straightforward and procedural. Approval of the ritual depends on going through channels, and the onscreen events are never presented as anything other than what is actually happening. In Exorcismus, Chris is a renegade. There is an element of deception and unreliable narration here. The full backstory is not revealed until late in the film, and the film's events take on a different meaning when it is shown how the situation has been manipulated. Chris takes on a villainous aspect and is unlike the pure-hearted heroes The Exorcist presents us with.
This means that The Exorcist's conservative, "trust authority" message is absent from Exorcismus, which has no trustworthy father figure. Emma's father cares about her very much, but he is helpless. There is also a hint of predatory behavior from the adult males, who often seem positioned to look down Emma's shirt. The psychiatrist dies in an extremely suggestive position while Emma is under hypnosis, and it is never clear whether he died that way or whether he landed in that position after his death. All of this casts further suspicion on Chris' "mentoring." Emma ultimately empowers herself by confronting and opposing Chris and assumes a "final girl" role.
The Exorcist gains much depth through its medical and psychiatric background and its array of well-developed characters. Exorcismus is not nearly so ambitious and, perhaps due to budget limitations, makes no effort at the former's frightening transformation. Emma's condition is depicted as a series of spells in which her eyes roll back into her head and her voice changes. This is Emma's story in a way that The Exorcist was not Regan's story, so it's appropriate that she's lucid for most of the picture.
An overlooked fact about The Exorcist is that it contained what may have been the first film reference to Ritalin, some twenty years before that drug was commonly prescribed and became a household word. Exorcismus updates the action for the Ritalin generation. When Emma is concerned about the perceived stigma of seeing a psychiatrist, her friends inform her that it's commonplace and is no big deal.
The Exorcist remains shocking forty years later, in large part due to the intensity of the dialogue and accompanying facial expressions delivered by the young Linda Blair. That element is not possible in Exorcismus, as we're accustomed to hearing that kind of language from a girl of Emma's age, and innocence is not a factor anyway. The newer film relies on unstable camera work to unsettle the viewer. Shots truck from side to side and zoom in and out as though viewed by someone whose head lolls on their neck. There are also extreme close-ups that focus on the character's face and allow no sense of their surroundings. Effective? Your mileage may vary. Our stance is that these camera tricks are annoying.
The Exorcist treats a non-traditional family as a liability. Exorcismus begins with a nuclear family and then destroys them. For all of the family's efforts to avoid the outside world's assault on traditional values, they fall victim to their own inner dysfunction.