SYTYCR Round 2.7: Zelda’s Kid Sister VS. Falkor (THE EXORCIST)

by Nick Jobe · August 17, 2012 · So You Think You Can Review · 16 Comments

If we can’t get the voting back up to what it was before (though potentially without cheating), there might not be a version two of this down the road. Anyway, congrats to Kasper Gutman who won the battle and will be moving on to the third round! The next round has Zelda’s Kid Sister, who won in Round 1 with her review of Eraserhead, battling against Falkor, who moved through automatically, despite his incredibly controversial Oldboy review (and, um… be gentle here). And they’re both moving on to another kind of freaky with The Exorcist. Read, vote, comment, enjoy! You have until Sunday. And then there’s only one battle left of the round! Below is the updated bracket. Click to make it bigger.


Review #1
By Zelda’s Kid Sister

I apologize for what is likely a tasteless bit of humor, but I can’t get past a silly wish that the tagline for The Exorcist had been “The Devil went down to Georgetown.” It just makes me giggle. And believe you me, since there are no giggles to be had when watching the movie (except for the creepy, possessed kind), a little humor might lighten proceedings. As I’m sure everyone is aware, The Exorcist is a horror film of the first order. Released in 1973, this tale of demonic possession captivated audiences, spawned sequels and copycats galore, and was even nominated for Best Picture by the Academy, the first horror film to be so honored. Today it is still considered one of the scariest movies of all time, full of iconic scenes, images, and sounds that can immediately strike fear into the hearts of anyone brave enough to press play.

Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) is a famous movie star, currently filming a movie in Georgetown, DC, where she is living in a stately brownstone with her daughter Regan (Linda Blair). Regan’s a happy, reasonably well-adjusted child, but when she becomes sullen, distant, and starts telling strange stories, her concerned mother takes her to the doctor. Through diagnoses of depression and lesions on her brain, Regan’s condition continues to worsen. Meanwhile, Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) is struggling with questions about his faith and the death of his elderly mother. When all other answers have been exhausted, the possibility that Regan may be possessed leads Chris to Father Karras, who in turn requests permission from the Church to perform an exorcism. The Church summons Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), who has experience in such matters, to perform the ritual, but at what cost will the two priests succeed in their goal to save a young girl from a horrible fate?

I think that in this day and age, audiences may have a particular notion of what makes a horror film. Generally speaking, they’re thin on acting, continuity, and plot, and heavy on gore. The Exorcist, interestingly, claims none of these characteristics. It’s an incredibly taut piece of work; dramatic, slow-burning, and punctuated by some truly impressive performances. The story, though straightforward, finds its strength in showing us the natures of the people who suffer through this ordeal, and how the experience shapes them.The normalcy surrounding the supernatural makes it that much more terrifying: the slow struggle of multiple doctor’s visits, painful tests, and baffled discussions gives the audience so much more depth than your average slasher. The normal skepticism of everyone involved, and the attempts to explain away the unexplainable keep the tension building throughout the first half of the movie; the exorcism that serves as the climax of the film comes as a relief, a deep exhale that lets us know we’re finally on the right track.

Perhaps the most surprising facet of this film is the acting. It’s all first-rate. Miller’s Karras is a tormented soul seeking answers, and Blair as Regan does an incredible job of navigating the horrors she both endures and perpetrates. Max von Sydow is somewhat underutilized, but his place within the structure of the story helps to explain that: he arrives when there are no more questions, when it is time for faith and action. He brings calm and strength to the proceedings, and in that he is superb. It is Ellen Burstyn, however, who is the star here. Her performance is awe-inspiring as she moves through the stages of Chris’s reactions to the situation: confidence to concern to full-on fear, hopelessness, and despair. Her deterioration mirrors that of her daughter, and is, in some ways, the more dramatic of the two in that she has no scary make-up or special effects to fall back on. The strength with which she convinces her audience that she is, first and foremost, a mother who will do anything to protect her child, is the emotional centerpiece of the film.

Director William Friedkin famously used all sorts of unorthodox methods (a special refrigerated set, firing guns to surprise his actors, and so on) to capture the look and feel of his film, and his attention to detail truly pays off. It is that precision that elevates The Exorcist and makes it a good movie, as opposed to merely a good horror movie. There’s very little left to be desired in the finished product: it can be a bit slow at times, although the extra exposition helps to drive the narrative and keep the tension up. Even the effects of the 1970s, often laughable in other features, are used judiciously and to success here. The major strength is, as stated, the adherence to reality in the face of the otherworldly. It makes the audience feel as though the same things could happen to them, and how would they know any better how to deal with them? How would any parent react to such a traumatic series of events surrounding their child? By keeping things simple and allowing our imaginations and emotions to run with the story, The Exorcist gets inside its audience’s head, stays with it well after the popcorn has been swept away. Even those who are not a fan of the genre will find things to admire about this particular example.


Review #2
By Falkor

Famous movie star Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) is hard at work filming her new movie in Washington, DC. Throughout the duration of the shoot, she and her 12-year-old daughter Regan (Linda Blair) are living near by in a rented house. At first, everything is going great, but then Chris starts to notice some changes in her daughter’s behavior. At first they are small, and few and far in-between, so Chris attributes it to puberty. However, when Regan’s behavior becomes more severe, Chris starts to investigate just what exactly is going on with her daughter. After doctors are unable to diagnose her with anything, Chris begins to suspect that her daughter might be possessed by some evil spirit.

***NOTE: This review has been edited to remove any personal anecdotes or spoilers, per the request of all the comments from my last review. If you would like to read the whited out sections, simply highlight them with your mouse. 

Seriously? First I have to watch “Old Boy” and then I have to follow that up with “The Exorcist?!?” And meanwhile, other people get to watch “Die Hard,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “Mask of the Phantasm!” Jeeze, give me a light-hearted movie next time!

Just like with “Old Boy,” I have never seen “The Exorcist” – however, this time around I knew a lot more about what movie I was about to watch. And I will be completely honest, I did not want to watch this movie. But I’m having fun in this competition, so I finally had some drinks and sat down to watch the movie last night. And while I can’t say that I liked it, I thought it was a really well done film.
Supposedly based on true events (the author claims that 80% of this story is the truth), this movie tells a very disturbing tale. And props have to be given to both Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair – they both took roles that could have easily been over the top and made them believable, and even more impressive, relatable. Burstyn in particular was fantastic as a mother who has absolutely no idea what is going on with her daughter, and desperately wants to help her get better. Her progression throughout the film was really great to watch, all culminating to the point at the end when her daughter is crying out for her and she hesitates for the longest time before running to embrace her. It is a heart breaking moment, and one that the entire film was leading up to. Blair, as I said before, was great as well – her role was a lot to ask from a 12-year-old girl! She did a really good job acting both terrified and creepy as all hell throughout the entire film.
The rest of the cast was pretty terrific as well, although I wish we could have learned more about Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) and who he really was. What is fascinating to me, however, is that because they gave him makeup to make him look older, he looked the exact same in this movie as he does now! That aside, he was really terrific, and the final scene in the movie where the titular event takes place is probably the best part of the film. You can see in his face how hard he is struggling to command what is inside Regan to come out. Similarly, I also liked Jason Miller as Father Karras. He brought a lot of heart and soul to his character, although I wish he was a little more developed as well. But the movie wasn’t about these two characters, the movie was about Regan and her mother.
Maybe I might be getting a little too personal here, but oh well. I absolutely believe in spiritual warfare, so a movie like this is certainly a terrifying prospect. One complaint, however, is that this movie has been parodied and replicated so many times, that I always knew what was coming next. I knew at one point that Regan’s head would spin around. I knew that she would spider walk down the stairs. So all of these very creepy scenes lost a lot of their punch because I knew it was coming. That’s not really a fault of the film, it is just an unfortunate side-effect because it is such a popular and well-known movie.
Another complaint that I have is that it really upsets me when child, or young, actors are portraying characters that do vulgar or disgusting things. I understand that they are just playing a role, however I don’t think that it is right. There is one scene where Regan is masturbating with a crucifix – which was the one point in the movie where I felt like turning it off. The thing is, Blair had to actually act like she was doing that. I know it might not bother other people, but it really bothers me. And it really takes me out of the movie.

The special effects, while a little hokey at times, were pretty impressive for a movie that was filmed 40 years ago. However, as always with older movies, I can’t help but wonder what the movie could have been like if it were filmed today. Would the effects have been more believable? It’s a minor thing, and one that I won’t fault the film for, but it is something that I kept wondering throughout the film. Also, I was not a fan of Regan’s voice when she was being possessed. I know they were trying to convey that someone else was talking through her, but the voice was so obviously not hers that it wasn’t really effective for me.
Overall, this is a pretty good movie. It is suspenseful and terrifying, but at the heart of the movie is a story about a mother doing whatever she can to help save her daughter. And that is something that everyone can relate to. It was a smart choice to center this movie around that hook, because otherwise it just would have been too far out there for people to really identify with. I think that is why the other films in the series weren’t as successful – they lost the human touch.
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