The exorcism genre has been a little heavy of late, with many writers and directors taking a stab at creating something that either builds upon or is as far away from the masterpiece that is The Exorcist. Originally released in 2014, Asmodexia is a thrilling little surprise, as it embraces the genre that inspired it while concurrently turning said genre on its head. Hardcore fans will detect elements of other horror films, such as John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness and 1977’s The Sentinel, but this low-budget flick manages to stand on its own, crafting a subtle tale of terror that truly pays off during the film’s climax and coda. Note: the film is performed in Spanish, with the DVD offering several subtitle variations in English. The Spanish is not from Central or South America but rather from Spain, so be prepared for the variations in tense, tone, and lisp.
The story centers on Eloy de Palma (played intriguingly well by Llius Marco) and his granddaughter Alba (Claudia Pons), who seemingly live a simple and poor life with but one goal, the exorcism of demons. However, right from the start both characters display characteristics not in keeping with religiousness or holiness. For example, Eloy swears like a sailor during each exorcism, using his own approach rather than the Roman Ritual. Alba is even stranger, her dark countenance and inner strength shining on the screen in a most disturbing and distracting fashion. One particularly disturbing sequence starts the movie off, where Eloy is exorcising a woman that turns out be his daughter, Ona (Irene Montala), whom he considers weak and unworthy.
As the movie progresses, more and more subtle pieces of information are doled out. Slowly but surely, the audience comes to realize that Eloy and Alba are not who we believe they are. Moreover, Ona—who has now been in an insane asylum for most of her adult life—is not who she appears to be. Complicating matters even more is Ona’s sister, a police inspector named Diana (Marta Belemonte) who appears to be the voice of reason only to also turn at movie’s end.
Surprisingly goreless and bloodless, Asmodexia instead relies on character development, flashes of horror-driven sequences, and bold storytelling that leads to an inevitable climax. Director Marc Carrete, who also co-wrote the script with the help of Mike Hostench, has a knack for dialogue and milking subtle performances from his actors. The movie’s climax answers some of the audience’s questions then turns up the heat even more by enabling evil to triumph. The film’s coda is a hideous moment, blaspheming against a religious icon that even most atheists will recognize.
By making evil palpable, even somewhat sympathetic and attractive, Asmodexia serves as a triumph in filmmaking. Although not all the answers are provided, which is good, the movie does give enough details to ensure that the terror of the film’s climax leads to subtle gasps. This movie is not straight-on horror but rather cosmic terror, as John Carpenter attempted in his movie Prince of Darkness. Those most terrified by Asmodexia will be those with religious convictions. The mixing of the Aztec “end of the world” plot does not work too well now (perhaps it fared better in 2012), but the blasphemy of having the day of resurrection for evil come on Christmas day is inspired. Another inspiration is The Sentinel, with Ona playing the role in this movie that was essayed by Alison Parker in the 1977 flick.
Anyone familiar with King Diamond’s full-length studio CD Abigail will likely get a riff on the status of Alba, minus the silver spikes, of course. As for the movie’s title, it likely represents “the daughter of Asmodeus,” as this is the entity that is revealed at the film’s climax. The fact that the word means “divine being” is also a play on the film’s theme, that what the religious claim as divine is not. Taking the Greek root of “dexia,” which means “right,” could mean “to the right of Asmodeus,” or “to the right of the divine being.”
A movie “spoiler” is that Eloy and Alba are not casting out demons. Instead, they are casting out the Host, which is compelling the innocent among Eloy’s flock in an attempt to stop the gathering. This variation of exorcism is inspired and I would have like to have seen a bit more done with this idea.
An original take on the exorcism genre, Asmodexia achieves what so many have tried and failed. This movie tells a unique and compelling story; it builds itself on other horror movies but elects to stand on its own, giving the audience some beautiful and colorful sets, some startlingly subtle performances, and a tale that will resonate in both the heart and brain for more than a little time.