MSRP: $24.95
RUNNING TIME: 89 Minutes
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The Pitch

"We’re making
The Exorcist, except we’re doing it with no special effects, no violence, no crotch-stabbing, no Ellen Burstyn, and no “Your mother sucks cocks in Hell!” Oh yeah, and the demons might not be real.”

The Humans

Sandra Hüller, Burghart Klaußner, Imogen Kogge, Anna Blomeier, Nicholas Reinke.

The Nutshell

Michaela Klingler’s world is changing. She’s going away for school, she’s distancing herself from her parents, and she’s tentatively embarking on a relationship with her first boyfriend. She’s growing up, and things will never be the same.

Now, if it wasn’t for those fucking demons…

"You sure there’s not more to this ‘Cyber-Sex?’ I feel like I’m missing something."

The Lowdown

Who’d a thunk a girl with a name like Anneliese Michel would be so popular? For those not in the know, Ms. Michel was a 23-year-old college student in Miltenberg, Germany who died of starvation after an exorcism. Yes, you heard that right. Her story has inspired not one but two recent films, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and this one,
Requiem. It just goes to show what a difference demonic possession can make. Emily Rose was crap, to put it mildly, really just a lame episode of Law and Order with some minor demonic trappings. This one…it’s pretty good. It’s not great, but it’s a solid piece of filmmaking that’s well-worth your time, if for no other reason than it is the most realistic film I have ever seen about demonic possession.

People, please hold your laughter for after the show.

You probably should know something right off the bat: this is not a horror film. I don’t care how the Weinsteins and IFC Films are selling it, if you go in expecting
The Exorcist, then you’re in for quite a surprise. Much like Zodiac (please go see it—it kicks fucking ass, probably more ass than 300 and that’s a movie borne from ass-kickery) is a police/journalistic procedural film marketed as a slasher flick, Requiem is a character study marketed as The Demon Inside or some such shit. This film charts the last six months in the life of Michaela Klinger (Sandra Hüller), and for the first act there isn’t anything remotely horrific or demonic in sight. We get a real sense of Michaela’s life, here focused heavily on her relationship with her family and friends, and on her adjustments to the new (for her) world of college. Nothing’s too out-of-the-ordinary. All of this is captured quite well; director Hans-Christian Schmid shoots in a very naturalistic, fly-on-the-wall style that adds just the right amount of grit to an otherwise conventional (at this point in the film) story. And it’s all pleasantly understated, too. When Michaela fights with her parents, it’s upsetting but not over-the-top, and when she meets her boyfriend Stefan, it’s sweet but not cloyingly so. For a while, the film unfolds with the quiet yet absorbing rhythms of real life, and that’s to be commended.

And then, as the fellow says, the fit hits the shan.

Except it happens in a way I’ve never seen before. When Michaela first starts showing signs of “possession,” nothing changes in the film stylistically. No freaky filters, monks chanting, or grisly special effects, like in The Exorcist, for example, just that same naturalistic, low-key style. Michaela doesn’t talk in a different voice or mutate into a beast, she goes into what looks more like epileptic shock while recoiling from demons, all captured on film by the sober eye of the camera. This sounds lame, but it’s actually incredibly effective to watch. The contrast of the aesthetic style with the frenzied screams of Michaela is agonizing to watch at times. Plus, you see this girl, her body contorted by fear and pain, and you can’t actually see or hear what’s tormenting her—somehow that’s more striking, going back to that old adage of Alfred Hitchcock, that what we don’t see is far worse than what we do.

I wish I had a hot, blonde German friend who’d re-enact Lake Placid with me.

Or, and here’s the other interesting thing, if there’s anything at all to see. We see Michaela writhing in agony from what she claims are demonic visions, but the movie offers up plenty of evidence to suggest that it’s all in her head. Her actual epilepsy, her difficulties adjusting to her new school, the rush of having a boyfriend for the first time, or her struggles with her belief in God and how they affect her relationship with her parents, these could all easily be the impetus behind her problems. One could make the case that Michaela’s just growing-up, and her “possession” stems from the uncertainties that accompany growing pains (hey, wouldn’t it have been cool if an episode of Growing Pains played out like this? Maybe have Kirk Cameron flip out and call Alan Thicke a cunt, or something). In a key scene, where Michaela’s cursing at her parents and destroying their kitchen, we’re faced with this ambiguity head-on; Michaela might be acting under satanic influences, but she could just as easily be acting out in typical teenage rebellion toward her (slightly) domineering parents, “demonic possession” being their way to explain her behavior.

But Michaela’s outbreaks are always shocking to witness, and that’s a testament to director Schmid. He’s got a lot on his plate to show us (possible demonic possession, character study of Michaela, and the poles of science and religion that vie for Michaela’s soul (represented by, respectively, her new boyfriend and her old family) in only 89 minutes, and he pulls it all off rather admirably. The movie works on all of those levels, making it seem really layered. He shows us Michaela’s descent in terms of how it affects those around her, and I thought that was a really interesting way to take things. In fact, I thought that the stuff concerning Michaela’s adjustment to college and her withdrawal from her familiar family-life was so compelling it would have worked on its own even without the threat of evil spirits. More from your moolah, I guess.

And his masterstroke was casting Sandra Hüller as Michaela. If this film is truly exceptional in any field, it’s here; Hüller turns in one of the great unsung performances of 2006; it’s right up there with Ellen Page’s work in Hard Candy (buy that here!!). I imagine this type of role would terrify some actors. The tonal shifts Hüller has to pull off from scene to scene are quite daunting—Michaela damn-well runs the gamut of emotional experiences, from awkward outsider to burgeoning sexuality to demonic rage to subtle self-destruction and all the places in between. Hüller just goes for, with the range and intensity (and looks, to a certain degree) of a young(er) Cate Blanchett. Her possession scenes are so fucking impressive and maybe the best I’ve ever seen; she’s able to convey such rage and fear and pain with no makeup or special effects whatsoever. She does this thing with her hands that makes it look like her fingers are being twisted akimbo by unseen forces, and it’s all her! But even more impressive, I think, are her shifts between the awkward peasant girl at the start of the film to more confident and cosmopolitan college girl of the second half. Hüller seems so dowdy and plain at first and then becomes so much more self-possessed (in a good, non-Satanic way) and attractive as she experiences college, and she achieves this through body language and subtle physical gestures rather than through Princess Diaries-style “Uglified Bitch becomes Prettified Bitch.” I hate to use this phrase, but she truly gives a tour-de-force performance, and it’s a shame it wasn’t recognized during awards season.

This is just like Christmas at my house, except that the father would be popping the mother in the face for calling him an alcoholic. And we wouldn’t be celebrating Christmas. Come to think of it, this is nothing like Christmas at my house.

All that said, and I still can’t quite call this a great film. At 89 minutes, it feels a little too rushed. All the important thematic and tonal and emotional shifts the characters go through make sense, but they’re come by far too quickly; I almost wonder if there was, at one point, a longer cut that restored some of the missing grace notes and connective tissue bits that may have been excised. While the understatement lends the film an air of realism and helps cut the sensationalism of the story, I can’t also help but think it feels a little slight. This is a story about the profound changes a young girl goes through, changes so profound that they ultimately destroy her. Cecil B. DeMille grandiosity would be silly, but a bit more weight couldn’t hurt. And the film brings up even more questions with its brutally blunt, spare end title card, questions that it doesn’t even begin to address and maybe should have. Still, even here, how many movies leave you with stuff to think about after they’re over?

Regardless of any issues I had with it, this is a solid flick with a tremendous lead performance. They can’t all be great, but honestly, a shitload of great movies?

That’d get rather tiresome, I think.

The Package

The A/V on this flick is, like the rest of the film, awfully subdued. The sound’s not a problem; it does a good
job modulating between the harshness of Michaela’s attacks and the quietness of the rest of her life. But the picture…I don’t know if it was shot on DV. If it was, I’ll cut it some slack, because if not…it looks like refined ass. Grainy, smeary visuals, a lot of frame clipping issues. It’s watchable, and it’s presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio, but it ain’t pretty. It’d still look like ass on DV, but at least that’s a valid excuse for such assery.

The package is a joke. The cover has a red-eyed Michaela with “Evil Lies in Her Soul” plastered next to her. Obviously the genius in marketing who designed this hasn’t even seen the preview for this film. But hey, if it suckers one more poor schmuck who’s jonesing for The Exorcist into buying the DVD, then it’s all good, right?

And people wonder why I’m so cynical.

As for special features…oh shit, someone forgot to include special features on the disc. I guess that director’s commentary where Schmid talks about his approach to the material, the interview with Hüller about her acting process, and the 30 minutes of deleted scenes were scrapped to make room for…what? A bunch of crappy previews for films I’ll never see.

Awesometown, USA.

"Help me, THX-1138!"

Requiem is a good movie. Backed by a tremendous lead performance, it succeeds where The Exorcism of Emily Rose failed, presenting a view of demonic possession that is unpretentious, realistic, and, in its own low-key way, wholly absorbing. The disc is a big cock-up; it sells the movie short, provides no insights into the making of the film, and looks like my balls. It’s the digital equivalent of having a train run on you. Let’s say 7.5 for the movie, and for the disc:

2.5 out of 10