Synopsis – A renowned exorcist who teams up with a rookie priest for his first day of training. As they plunge deeper into hell on earth, the lines between good and evil blur, and their own demons emerge.
My Take – There is no doubt about the fact that even though 48 years have passed since the release of director William Friedkin‘s The Exorcist, which was based on the 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty, who also produced and wrote the film, it continues to remain a staple in the horror genre. A film which despite spawning a failed franchise of its own, made the concept of exorcisms a common fodder for horror films, providing a unique perspective on both evil and religion together.
Sadly, the film’s biggest failing remains on how it became the main source of influence over the years for many aspiring filmmakers who continue to use its template, hoping to provide the same unique and formative experience, but with little variation. Luring viewers with a promising new spin but ultimately falling back on the same old worn-out tropes.
For his sophomore feature, following 2018’s The Dark, writer-director Justin P. Lange initially seems to be attempting a unique approach by setting his demonic story on the lines of a Training Day (2001) liked styled drama, while sprinkling in the usual aspects like possessed child, a creepy old woman, a discouraged priest, and an Ouija board around it.
But unfortunately, other than basic plot device similarities, director Lange also does little to distinguish his film from other more successful films. Even when he is provided an opportunity to try something unique, the film just shrinks back into place and continues with a been-there-done-that narrative, and a highly predictable ending waiting at the end of its 87 minute run time. In an over-saturated genre of exorcism films, there is just nothing to make this one stand apart from the others.
The story follows Father Daniel Garcia (Vadhir Derbez), a young, inexperienced Priest who upon recently graduating from exorcism training, on the instruction of the Archbishop (Stephen Lang) finds himself paired with Father Peter Costello (Guy Pearce), a renowned exorcist, who is to serve as his mentor. Despite his immense experience however, Father Peter remains haunted by a particular case years ago where he was assisting Father Louis (Keith David), his mentor, in a particularly violent exorcism that ended in tragedy.
With the trauma of the event still buried inside him, he believes the impressionable Father Daniel can be the cornerstone of his teachings, especially when they are investigating their latest case of a possible demon possession of a young boy named Charlie (Brady Jenness), who is being held in custody for murdering his own family.
The film actually starts off quite well. We see Father Peter drive Father Daniel to a homeless encampment in a rundown neighborhood to test him by asking him to find the demon hiding in plain sight. And when Father Daniel fails, he learns a valuable lesson about how demons try to remain inconspicuous.
Which is quickly followed by Father Daniel walking through the house, envisioning how the events unfolded, making it possibly the most compelling sequence of the entire film. Throughout the film director Lange hints at a world building of a possible franchise, offering hints here and there, showing his willingness to liberate from the limitations of horror tropes.
That is until halfway through he abandons all of its most imaginative and potentially subversive elements, gradually collapses the film into a series of ineffective and jerky jump scares and a plot twist that is handled so awkwardly that it fails to surprise anyone. Once this is divulged, the final act moves quickly – almost too quickly.
The film could have easily used about 20 minutes more to help draw out the conclusion. It feels rushed and over-edited, and the need to savor that nice juicy twist isn’t experienced as much as it should. Even when he tries to color outside the lines, his attempts are fairly predictable and halfhearted. However, the biggest failing of the film is how it refuses to be scary.
It features a few ill-timed jump scares that frankly didn’t work, and its general tone doesn’t do enough to bring a sense of dread to the film, which might otherwise make up for its low fear factor. It also doesn’t help that the film’s limp and lifeless script gives no opportunity to its two leads to click and bounce off one another.
Clearly the most experienced of the two, Guy Pearce has some moments where it seems like he’s having fun, especially when it seems like he is channeling the DC character Constantine. Annoyingly though, the script doesn’t allow him to stretch his character much. Sadly, Vadhir Derbez makes for an awful lead, who never quite conveys the level of fear necessary to make the audience feel equally scared. Stephen Lang and Keith David don’t have a lot to do here.
Leaving young actor Brady Jenness to be the clear standout as he does a convincing job of toggling back and forth between tortured young boy and frightening entity. On the whole, ‘The Seventh Day’ is just another addition to the over-saturated list of exorcism films, which despite an intriguing premise never lives up to it.
Directed – Justin P. Lange
Rated – R
Run Time – 87 minutes