American Exorcism plays a lot like a pilot for a CW supernatural show from the early aughts, with its flashy special effects, touches of martial arts action, awkward teenagers, and mysterious yet handsome(ish) male leads. We’re introduced to Damon, with his immaculate facial hair and multiple tattoos, something of an aging rocker that’s settled into adulthood via marriage, mortgage and parenthood. While not serving as a family man, Damon helps his preacher friend, Padre, fight demons. As it turns out, Damon was once possessed but only partially exorcised by Padre, leaving Damon with unique powers and insights into the demon psyche.
When tragedy occurs (without spoilers, I might slow down to point out this is certainly not a movie that has the Bechdel Test in mind; every female character is a damsel in distress or only motivated by the actions of the male leads), Damon goes on something of a sabbatical, living alone on the beach for ten years. This decade of self reflection transforms Damon from a lively gutter punk into a stoic hipster parody (complete with well a oiled beard and *man-bun*). Padre abruptly visits and pulls Damon out of exile in order to face off against a supernatural threat with personal ties to Damon (Damon’s now teenage daughter is in peril).
Despite its generic name, American Exorcism stands apart from the ever expanding sub genre of possession horror movies. Largely setting aside religious dogma in favor of more esoteric mystic fare, our protagonists battle the possessed (who in this film are essentially in the mold of Evil Dead “deadites”) with a combination of hand to hand combat and magic incantations (which are erratic, speaking in tongues sort of stuff that’s a sight to behold). The film has serviceable special effects and okay fight choreography (there’s a few awkward moments when anything more complicated than a punch is thrown). Where the film really shines is in its earnest acting from leads Michael Filipowich (Damon) and William McKinney (Padre). Filipowich and McKinney have some nice chemistry together, and their contrasting portrayals (Filipowich has loud, manic energy while McKinney is button down and more quietly intense) play off each other well. Additionally, Jessica Morris (Janelle) does the amazing job of convincing us that she would marry and have a child with Damon, and through her performance, Damon has pathos via osmosis.
Even though the acting plays this material incredibly straight without any sense of irony, there’s still a ton of fun to the proceedings. Damon is essentially a scuzzy, foul mouthed, likely STI ridden Doctor Strange (is it too late to switch titles from the generic “American Exorcism” to “STI Ridden Doctor Strange”?), and Filipowich’s often unhinged performance is fun to watch. Worth a watch if you’re looking for something new to fill the void until Ash vs Evil Dead returns next fall.
Craig is a co host of the Half Assed Horrorcast. His writing about horror has appeared on Bloody Good Horror, Fanboy Report and other places. Find him on twitter @4colorcraig.