Thursday, May 24, 2012

In The Grip of Evil

This is movie is yet another one where I didn't even remember putting it on my Netflix queue or why until I started watching it. I had added it after watching the first ten minutes in a class four years ago. It's an exploration of a case of alleged demonic possession that inspired the book The Exorcist.

I'm frequently intrigued by the real life stories behind famous works of fiction, so the idea of a documentary about the real case that inspired a movie was already intriguing. To be honest, I wish I had just read about it on Wikipedia instead.

It's not that In The Grip of Evil is terrible, it's that it's not any more interesting or evocative than an online article. There's nothing that makes you say "that right there, that's why this is a documentary and not a book." Which I know is a sentence that doesn't make sense to a lot of people, but it's the best way to summarize my reaction.

The film relies a lot on old standbys of "true" tv shows like Unsolved Mysteries. There's the gravely older male voice telling you how spooky and terrible things were. There's the often repeated still shots of the places involved where they zoom in and out of the picture of the church while it fades from color to black and white (sometimes with a flash of lightening effect). Some of the experts they interview are great, like a priest who was actually present for the exorcisms, but some of them you have no idea why that person is still talking. They interview a psychiatrist who seems to waffle back and forth about the idea of exorcism and the supernatural. She offers explanations for some things, and then makes a statement that sounds like she believes the boy really was possessed. Nothing about the way she is shot or framed sets her up as authoritative so I ended up discounting almost everything she said.

All of the interviews are done in this weird style that is clearly meant to make you feel like things are spooky and strange. I'm not sure, but my suspicion is that they shot everything with the camera on a tripod and then added motion effects in post-production so that the shots would slowly go back and forth from a dutch (crooked) angle and back. Or slowly zoom in and out. I think it was done in post because the motions were too perfectly timed to the clips they were using and if you did that during production you'd usually end up with partial moves and bad timing. Plus, can you imagine being interviewed while the camera man was weaving the camera all over the place? It'd drive me insane.

Anyway, if you love The Exorcist and you want to know more about what inspired it, I'd suggest just reading the many articles online about it or reading the original newspaper articles themselves. But if you like the show Unsolved Mysteries or you're a completionist that must know everything, then In The Grip of Evil isn't going to be a waste of your time.