Movies about demonic possession are usually a hit or a miss. Some, like the classic horror novel-turned-film The Exorcist, are obvious hits that continue to terrify audiences to this day. Others miss the mark, either due to poor writing, subpar acting, or just a plain boring story.
THE EXORCISM OF CLARITA, originally released in the Philippines this year, is neither fantastic nor horrible. The film, written by Cenon Palomares and directed by Roderick Cabrido, is a cinematic version of the true story of Clarita Villanueva. In the 1950s, teenaged Clarita was supposedly bitten and tormented by demons in a jail cell in Manila. As the tale goes, the multiple attacks on Clarita were witnessed by doctors, journalists, and even the mayor of Manila, Arsenio Lacson.
The film centers on Clarita, two priests, and a young photojournalist. In between the scenes of possession and attempted exorcism, flashbacks reveal the various traumatic events in all of the characters’ lives.
The main problem with THE EXORCISM OF CLARITA is that we’ve seen this movie before. In fact, we’ve seen it many times. THE EXORCISM OF CLARITA is essentially The Exorcist translated into Tagalog—but missing the vital elements that made the latter what it is.
THE EXORCISM OF CLARITA opens with the titular character (played by Jodi Sta. Maria) being dragged into a jail cell screaming about demons. She later bites off her own finger in front of a bevy of journalists—it’s explained that she caused the deaths of a few people. It’s a memorable first sequence, but the rest of the film falls short. There are, admittedly, a few interesting scenes of demonic activity. There’s a remote murder of a woman who bullied Clarita in the jail, somebody contortions, and, naturally, some levitation and changes in Clarita’s voice.
But not even backbends and vocal distortions are enough to save THE EXORCISM OF CLARITA. The film relies too heavily on flashbacks to give its characters depth and inspire empathy. And the flashbacks appear too far into the film to be effective. Additionally, the inner conflicts of the central characters—crises of faith, guilt over not stopping an act of violence, and mother issues for everyone—have been explored ad nauseum in nearly every other possession movie. Furthermore, the special effects and cinematography, while adequate on a technical level, just don’t seem to produce any truly creepy effect.
With its roots in a “true story” (although, the validity of the real possession of Clarita Villanueva is debatable at best), THE EXORCISM OF CLARITA is certainly ambitious. But ultimately, with its overused themes, conflicts, and motifs, the film is Exorcism By Numbers. THE EXORCISM OF CLARITA is in select theaters and will be available On Demand and Digital this Fall.