Sunday, March 18, 2007

Requiem (2006)

Requiem is a German film that is based on the same events that inspired the film The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Unlike Emily Rose, Requiem is a slow, methodical study of how one woman’s upbringing and environment may have lead to her demonic possession.

Michaela (Sandra Huller) is a devout Catholic that struggles with what has been diagnosed as epilepsy. After taking a year off school, her parents hesitantly allow her to attend university as long as she keeps taking her pills. Michaela arrives at school to study pedagogy and quickly strikes up a friendship with an old acquaintance, Hanna (Anna Blomeier) and starts dating sweet Stefan (Nicholas Reinke). As the pressures of college, her home life and her religious life clash, Michaela finds herself having more frequent attacks. She sees faces and hears voices that tell her not to touch the cross and forbid her from praying. She is convinced she is possessed, but her family, friends, doctors and even her priest believe that she is descending into madness. When Michaela turns violent and confrontational, her loved ones finally allow a priest to perform an exorcism.

Requiem tells the same story that The Exorcism of Emily Rose does, but in a very different way. It focuses on Michaela’s strict upbringing and how it clashes with her new life in college. The audience is never privy to what she sees and hears. There are no creepy parts with flashes of demon’s faces and we never hear the demons speak to her. Her pain and her suffering are her own, just like it must have been in real life. Requiem is a very subtle and slow film, and most will call it art house fare.

The cinematography (by Bogumil Godfrejow) is beautiful and has a very austere, naturalistic look to it. There are many shots of the patchwork fields of the countryside, as well as gardens and trees. Yet, there is a pallor to everything that gives the film a very cold, detached feeling. There is a distance between the subject being shot and the viewer, done purposefully by director Hans-Christian Schmid to portray the story objectively and unobtrusively.

The acting is extremely well-done, with special mention going to Sandra Huller who plays Michaela with a vast emotional depth. Her transformation from devout Catholic to college student and finally to possessed woman is so subtle you might not even realize it has happened until she is spewing obscenities and breaking her mother’s china. Huller portrays both Michaela’s strong faith and vulnerability with great realism and believability.

This is a very slow-moving film that does not deliver the scares or creeps that The Exorcism of Emily Rose delivers. I do not even consider it a horror film, but instead think of it more as a character-driven drama. Many people will be turned off by its slow pace and lack of payoff at the end. I was initially disappointed that the end didn’t deliver the punch I was looking for, but I realized that this film isn’t about shocking the audience. It is about portraying the life of a girl that ended up possessed or insane. Her life and her transformation leading to the exorcism is what this film focuses on, not the demons or the exorcism itself.

I cannot easily recommend this film to the horror crowd, as it is so slow-moving and doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Heck, even I was bored watching it and almost fell asleep. Yet, it stuck in my head after I had watched it and it is a very well-done film. If you enjoy dramatic artsy films that are heavily character-focused, this is bleak German film is worth checking out. If you are looking for a fast-paced, blood-drenched, nudity-filled exorcism flick, definitely skip this one.

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