Wednesday, April 8, 2015

In short: Asmodexia (2014)

It’s the December of 2012 and the Spain is hit by an incredible, unnatural heat wave. Strange cults and sects are flaring up throughout the world too, so things do feel a bit like the proverbial End Times. Eloy (Lluís Marco) and his granddaughter Alba (Clàudia Pons) are travelling the country, exorcising people.

All the while, Alba’s aunt, police inspector Diana (Marta Belmonte) follows the traces of her sister – Alba’s mother – Ona (Irene Montalà), who has spent the last fifteen years in a psychiatric hospital, as well as trying to pick up Eloy’s and Alba’s traces.

And that’s really all I can sensibly say about Marc Carreté’s Asmodexia without spoiling the joy of a film that not only subverts certain audience expectations when it comes to exorcism horror movies rather wonderfully but that also takes great pains to construct its backstory and the reasons for its plot in a way that induces the audience to slowly put them together for themselves. Well, unless you’re writing for the Village Voice, it seems. This approach actually reminds me of some of the weird tales of M.R. James, in particular those in his later collections, stories which are as much mysteries and puzzles as they are horror stories, and that need an audience willing to put some thought and imagination, and possibly even knowledge, in to get something out of them.

I highly enjoy how playful and knowledgeable the film’s use of Christian mythology is, in a way that is much more lively and interesting than you’ll generally find in exorcism horror. But then, calling Asmodexia “exorcism horror” isn’t quite fair or right, seeing as how the exorcisms aren’t the film’s main thrust but only elements it needs to tell its tale.

In fact, the most visible moments of direct supernatural battles are the film’s weakest points, moments when the intelligent and atmospheric threatens to drift off into the silly. As a director, Carreté seems much more at home with the insinuated and with the ambiguous, so some of the film’s strongest moments happen just off screen, the director leaving the unpleasant details to the imagination of his audience, like in the olden times.

That’s a thing Carreté can very easily get away with because he’s preparing for these moments of not quite getting explicit by slowly – this is for the most part a calm and deliberate film - building a palpable mood of dread and oppression, showing a Spanish countryside of wide open spaces and modern ruins that seems nearly depopulated, getting a lot of of threatening atmosphere out of daylight and openness – the opposite of your typical horror approach of darkness and enclosure. It is also an approach films use so seldom it can’t help but feel fresh, particularly when taken by a director with such a wonderful eye for making things oppressive.

And that’s really all I can say about Asmodexia without spoiling some of its best first-time viewing moments, which would be irresponsible in a film I enjoyed this much.

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