Requiem

Requiem

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Possession is fraught with demons. The Exorcist covered itself in green slime and presented its case with power and glory - don't mess with Old Nick - and, more recently, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, based on the same true story as Requiem, followed in a similar vein to the point where entertainment and empathy parted company.

The message Hans-Christian Schmid makes here is one of rational understanding and pragmatic naturalism. If the Catholic Church is portrayed as the villain, it has to be assumed that this is a subjective observation, not something built into the body of the script.

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Michaela (Sandra Huller) is an emotionally vulnerable, bright 21-year-old, with a history of epilepsy, who lives with her parents and younger sister in a suburban house in a small town in Germany in the Seventies. Although lacking the self-confidence to express her independent opinions, she finds home life stifling. Deeply religious, her mother takes every opportunity to criticise her eldest daughter, who receives a modicum of comfort from her father's consistent support.

When she wins a place at University, she is overjoyed until her mother refuses to contemplate such a move. "How can you go with that THING?" she accuses, referring to Michaela's illness. Already on daily medication, she persuades her father that she will benefit from the social stimulation and intellectual rigour of student life, and he agrees to help her.

After a nervous start, she begins to fit in at uni, even finding herself a boyfriend (Nicholas Reinke). Although naïve and clumsy and very much the country bumpkin, she is a fast learner and soon has done something about her hair and radically improved her wardrobe. However, along with these fresh stimuli comes a darker, more disturbing aspect of "that THING." She hears voices and sees faces that leer and scream at her.

Friends rally round, but cannot understand what is happening. The priest from home and a younger cleric move in with promises of prayer ("God's hand is strong. It can protect you"). She believes the voices, accusing her in filthy language of being a slut. "Everything I do is wrong," she agonises. "I try to pray." She cannot touch a crucifix, nor hold her rosary. She is drowning is the guilt of the damned.

Schmid's unsensational approach pays off, as Michaela's "possession" reaches its climax. Those who cannot see the demons, nor hear the voices, are helpless before her outrage. It is like watching a lover fight the terrors of a bad trip, only LSD is a chemical that slips away by morning and this is religious infusion that poisons the mind.

Huller is reminiscent of Jane Horrocks in her early days, uniquely talented and like no one else. Never are you aware of a Performance; always you are watching Michaela.

Reviewed on: 17 Nov 2006
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An epileptic student becomes possessed by demonic forces.
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If you like this, try:

The Exorcism Of Emily Rose