The Exorcist (1973) (R)

The juggernaut of horror movies, the impassible and inescapable landmark film that succeeded in every way possible even for being such a controversial movie, "The Exorcist" seems to exist out of time. It has aged extremely well considering the physical special effects of its contemporaries still don't look as good, or as frightening, as it does.
Probably the most infamous image of the film is Max von Sydow emerging from a cab on a foggy night, wreathed in shadow. The other moment would be little Linda Blair's head spinning around on her torso. Two very different moments, and neither explain what the film is about.
The film, more so than anything else, is uncovering the innermost emotion...wait, let me explain.
The movie opens in Iraq where a man is assisting on an archaeological dig when he finds something. It's a little statuette of a head, but it obviously freaks him out. He meanders around the dig, through the town, and at other sites; and we begin to see that he has awakened something. He has brought to life an ancient power...perhaps?
Flash over the Georgetown where we flip through many different characters as the story starts to weave together. Whether you like him or not, you can't deny that William Friedkin was a powerful director. He adds enough intrigue to each character to keep us interested.
We meet Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), an actress whose work is very well-known. She is planning on moving to Los Angeles soon with her daughter Regan (Linda Blair). The two of them have a great relationship, seemingly too ideal. Naturally the perfection is interrupted by the presence of something in the attic.
Chris is woken up during the night by sounds coming from above her, she assumes that it's rats and tells her servants about it so that they can put out traps.
But the noises keep getting louder and eventually her curiosity gets the better of her and Chris goes to investigate.
Meanwhile, we are given a montage-like look into the life of a priest, Father Karras. He is a specialist is psychology as well as a priest and he's beginning to have his doubts about the faith. He confides this with another priest, who begs him to stay with the church because he's "one of the best they've got". Set in an emotional tailspin because of the deteriorating state of his mother, Karras is the backbone of the film, though it doesn't seem apparent at first glimpse.
The bumps in the night get louder and soon little Regan starts acting a wee bit odd. For those who have seen the film, you know what I'm talking about...for those of you who haven't, you're in for some nasty surprises.
For this reason alone, "The Exorcist" could be seen as a simple, gross-out horror film. It relies on its moments of cringe-inducing make-up to be scary; but that's not giving it its full credit. For the film is entirely character driven and it's the people that the story is about that make it compelling, not that weird moments of horror that happen to them.
But anyways, I was talking about reveling the inner emotions. Father Karras is having trouble grasping this situation with his mother...but hearing of Regan's sudden changes help him confront all the emotions inside—even if his answer to this is something that an audience wouldn't necessarily enjoy. I find it truthful. For this reason, "The Exorcist" is Father Karras' movie, because it hinges on what he does.
I do have slight problems with the movie. When did the possession start? What caused it? There are certain moments that don't make sense to me like a reaction to fake holy water or the desecration of a statue in a church.
Yet, when the final frames have faded, I don't really care. These aren't gigantic plot holes, they're present for a reason.
Further still, the film is remarkably well made and some of the more beautiful cinematic moments include Ellen Burstyn walking down a windy sidewalk while the infamous score takes over or the way the camera spins around the house, dizzying the viewer.
It's a marvelous movie, in technical aspects alone. But all-inclusive, it remains one of the most impactful horror films ever made and above everything else, incredibly entertaining.

Score: ★★★★

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