Since The Exorcist was released in 1973, it has spawned an entire sub-genre of horror films exploring the spiritual world of good-versus-evil from a decidedly Catholic lens. However, in most of these films the religion is used more as a prop, a mythology that is useful to the type of black-and-white moral storytelling the genre leans into. This was never author William Peter Blatty’s intention. He saw his novel and film as an argument for the existence of God, something to provide people hope and potentially scare an increasingly secular population back into the welcoming arms of the Catholic church.
I think William Peter Blatty would be impressed with how THE INHABITANT grounds every aspect of the story in Catholic theology and doctrine. Filmed in Mexico, one of the most overwhelmingly devout Catholic countries in the world, means that it escapes the secular simplicity of many exorcism films made in the USA. It is a film that highlights faith as a source of hope, but also acknowledges that it has often been a tool used by the wicked to justify horrible acts.
At its heart, THE INHABITANT is a complicated morality tale wrapped up in a story of demonic possession. The premise itself situates it in a morally gray area, even before the multitude of reveals and plot twists complicates things further. In the film, three sisters from a poor family, the leader Camila (Vanesa Restrepo), sensitive Maria (Maria Evoli), and young Ana (Carla Adell) decide to rob the home of a wealthy senator in order to pay off Camila’s debts to some very unsavory people. But, when they discover the senator’s young daughter Tamara (Natasha Cubria) locked in the basement, they decide they need to rescue her, not realizing what they are unleashing when they do.
Much like The Exorcist, this film relies more heavily on creating a mood of deep dread, and the psychological assault on its main characters, than the more jump-scare-heavy approach of most modern supernatural horror. This is not a demon that relies on physically attacking its victims, but dredging up the deepest shames of their past and laying them bare for the world to see. Its mission is to show how every person is already tainted, vile, corrupted. God doesn’t save anyone.
Obviously, this approach is not without its drawbacks. Most horror audiences appreciate a well-timed jump scare, but getting them to buy into the threat of a more subtle and psychological nature requires a lot more skill and nuance. I think director Guillermo Amoedo balances this nicely, able to play with the audience’s expectations and tease a lot more violence than actually appears on screen. Which makes the violence that does appear all the more shocking for his restraint. He’s helped greatly by a truly haunting score by Manuel Riveiro.
In the end, how much you like this film will depend a lot on your expectations. If you go in expecting something closer to more recent exorcism films like The Last Exorcism or The Conjuring you may be disappointed by the slow pacing and lack of overt scares. But if you’re looking for the more slow-burn psychological horror of The Exorcist or even Paco Plaza’s Veronica (a personal favorite) I think you’ll really enjoy what The Inhabitant has to offer.
Thanks to everyone at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival! This event is running October 11-19, 2018 at the Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. If you’re in the area and want more details about the festival, check out www.torontoafterdark.com and look out for more coverage of the films here at Nightmarish Conjurings.