Godless: The Eastfield Exorcism (dir. – Nick Kozakis)
On its surface, Godless: The Eastfield Exorcism, looks to be just another priest vs. Satan possession movie with soap opera production values and a plot you’ve seen a million times before. Tack on the ever so broadly applied “based on a true story” tag and you can pretty much figure out the rest. Right?
Wrong! Yes, Godless was clearly made on the cheap (there’s something really weird going on with the sound), but strong performances and an exceptional script elevate this deceptively smart, and wildly intense drama. The less you know about it the better, as it’s the subversion of preconceptions that gives this Aussie thriller its sticking power. It’s additionally notable that when placed against other films of this subgenre, many of which claim to be based in fact, this one is certainly the easiest tale to believe.
Godless tells the story of a Lara and Ron LeVonde, the former of which has been suffering from a series of tics and delusions that have the latter, a dyed-in-the-wool man of faith, believing that his spouse may be suffering from demonic possession. Unfortunately for him (at least as he sees it), the church won’t approve an exorcism until all other avenues of diagnosis have been exhausted. Namely, Lara must be examined and cleared in a mental health capacity. As her symptoms increase in severity, a case of faith vs. science ensues, and our troubled couple reaches beyond both medicine and the church for a solution.
Standard possession movie scares are woven into themes of sexism (‘that woman is hysterical!’), blind faith, and the corruptive power of ego, resulting in a spooky horror flick with more to offer beyond genre tropes. A terrifying and thorough performance from Georgia Eyers makes Lara relatable and keeps the audience engaged to the mystery of her ailments, while a chilling score by Dmitri Golovko drives home every chilling moment. And even if the movie leaves you wanting, the postscript will crush your soul.
Clock (dir. – Alexis Jacknow)
With Clock, writer/director Alexis Jacknow has expanded her short film of the same name to feature length, and in doing so, has created a novel and thematically rich take on body horror. We’ve seen the subgenre used to speak on diseases and cancers, as well as on the concept of pregnancy itself (Alien scribe Dan O’Bannon famously declared that his goal was to make men feel the horror of having a lifeform growing inside of them), but Clock approaches it from a new angle. In it we find Ella (Dianna Agron), a successful designer just a few years short of forty. Her friends all have kids, her husband wants kids, and her father can’t make it through a dinner without brining up what he sees as Ella’s duty to continue the family line. But despite all of this, Ella just has no interest. And despite tons of chatter about her biological clock silently gearing up to change her mind, her experience just doesn’t bear it out.
She begins to wonder if perhaps there’s something physically wrong with her? So says Dr. Elizabeth Simmons (Melora Hardin), the mastermind behind an experimental therapy designed to jump start Ella’s biological clock. Ella wants to want kids, and decides to abide by the program as one final resort before giving up.
The frights come two very different sources. Most explicitly, horror is found in the side effects that Ella experiences, which may or may not be resultant from the procedures she undergoes. Is there something more going on, or is everything just par for the “experimental” course? Under the body horror shell, however, is a thematically rich character thriller. Shades of Ira Levin punctuate the story as Ella ponders whether or not those around her are indeed acting in her best interests, even as each are given motivations that appear mostly altruistic. Meanwhile, her agency is called into question. Does Ella indeed have a duty to her husband to procreate? Are her father’s assertions that it’s a responsibility to her Jewish ancestry that she continue the family line worth hearing? Should she be thinking of anyone but herself when it comes to reproductive health? It’s a very smart script that is sure to resonate with many elder millennials who remain childless despite reaching what doctors would consider “geriatric” in terms of childbearing.
This strong character work is bolstered by moments of more classic terror — Clock features a wealth of shocking imagery and a handful of cleverly staged scares. This gives the film a palpable sense of dread and suspense, while also providing food for thought well beyond the final credits.