A Columbia grad student interviews and shadows a paranormal specialist as she investigates a possible haunting or possession which may very well be something much worse than expected. Dark Exorcism, originally titled In The Dark, is David Spaltro’s third feature as a director and second as a writer. Here he weaves a tale of demonic possession starring four strong female characters. His afflicted lead, Bethany Mills is a sweet and strong girl who fights and tries to protect her mother. Her mom is also strong, but at her wits end when Lois Kearne and student Veronica Carpenter come to investigate and ultimately support and help her, whatever it takes.
These female characters are all well written and none are damsels in distress or dependent on a man, something many horror films fail at. They are complex, human characters first who also happen to be women. The way the film is written allows these characters and the actresses playing them to shine. In the lead of Veronica, Lynn Justinger plays a character that is hard to like for the first part of the film. She’s a skeptic and more than a bit disagreeable about it. Justinger plays her bluntly and with no worries of how she will look doing so. Her character gets an interesting arc and she shows the range needed for it and to make the viewer care about her. As her interviewee/mentor Lois, Fiona Horrigan plays the boozy older, world-weary woman well and gives a lot through her performance.
As Joan, the distraught mother of the possessed, Catherine Cobb Ryan plays her cards well, caring but not fully revealing her character until much later in the film. Her motherly care and worry shows but it also has something overshadowing it which comes across in her performance throughout the film. In the meatiest part of Bethany Mills, Grace Folsom shows how she can switch from sweet to evil in a matter of seconds, showing that not only does she have range but she can handle just about anything. This also shows as the film puts her character through the gauntlet and she does not let up the intensity as the story advances.
The special effects by Lisa Forst and the visual effects by Tony Hudson are good and add to the story. They are used as a support and not a means to an end. The film is not loaded with them which makes them more impactful when they show up. A scene near the start of the film in particular works so well, it shows how the effects add a lot of creepiness to the whole story and the film. These effects are not intrusive and their few showings are worth the wait.
Dark Exorcism boasts a beautiful intro sequence, quality performances, strong female characters, and good effects while being a creepy slow burn film and an interesting take on the exorcism film. It’s a story where the unseen works great and what is on the screen works as well. It has strong scenes but could have used a stronger ending as one of the aspects used to add emotional impact felt unnecessary and a bit forced. However, this takes very little from this film and its performances and the ending still works.