In January 2020, ‘Malasaña 32’ became one of the Spanish horror films that managed not only to succeed at the box office, but also to break borders, being a success in international markets such as Mexico or Vietnam. The group of writers formed by Ramón Campos, Gema R. Neira, Salvador S. Molina, and David Orea, iconic names of Bambú, come together again, with the addition of Teresa Fernández-Valdés and Carlos Ruanos, to try to replicate the success with ’13 exorcisms’, a film inspired by several real cases about alleged demonic possession.
Jacobo Martínez’s debut feature, ’13 exorcisms’ has an opening that knows how to attract attention among the public. A teenager, Laura Villegas, from a very religious family, participates, on Halloween, in a seance through a ouija board in an abandoned house where a man lived who killed his daughters and his wife. Strange things happen in the session and the young woman, a few days later, begins to behave strangely, to the point that her parents think she is possessed by the devilwhich prompts him to ask the Church for permission for one of the 15 exorcists authorized by the Vatican to come to help his daughter.
Really, the execution of that first part, although canonical, knows how to cause an effect and plunges the audience fully into that demonic spiral in which the protagonist feels dragged. Given that it is within a costumbrista framework, in a middle-class family, the way the film is executed evokes a lot ‘Verónica’ by Paco Plaza. And, in principle, it seems that the film will take that path, that of taking advantage of terror to explore deeper aspects. In the case of Plaza’s film, she portrayed the story of a girl overwhelmed by a situation that forced her to grow up too quickly, such as having to take care of her little brothers, because her mother had to take care of the neighborhood bar to be able to financially support the family. Martínez’s proposal seems to be a critique of the extent to which these possessions are real and if, really, the real devil here is the religious fanaticism of his relatives.
A proposal of terror that gave for much more
Nevertheless, that look is buried in a story that seeks to be that criticism but also bets on being an archetypal horror story, heavily influenced by William Friedkin’s ‘The Exorcist’, despite his denials to the contrary. The result is a film that stays between two waters, leaving a feeling that it could have been more ambitious. Its final part, moreover, throws to the ground, the reasonable doubt about whether the possession is real to surrender to the most exacerbated terror.
However, despite this, ’13 Exorcisms’ has a completely dedicated cast. First, María Romanillos stands out like the possessed teenager. The interpreter, who has also stood out in ‘No mires a los ojos’ -premiered the same day-, has an interpretive style that, precisely, is reminiscent of that of Sandra Escacena in the aforementioned ‘Verónica’. The young woman is very well accompanied by José Sacristán, whose deep voice links very well with that of the convinced exorcist; as well as Ruth Díaz and Urko Olazabal, as the parents of the possessed girl, who think they act for her own good; Mention also goes to Silma López and Cristina Castaño, who embody two opposite poles of vision of what happens to the young woman.
’13 exorcisms’ was enough to become the clear successor to ‘Veronica’. However, in the end, she ends up falling prey to fear for not being terrifying enough, going for common places – full of fireworks – and causing the final result to be lackluster. A production that, as happened with ‘Malasaña 32’, has good intentions but still needs to finish off.
The best: His cast is completely delivered to the proposal.
Worst: Its second part demolishes the initial approach of the film.