Review by Sean Boelman
Godless: The Eastfield Exorcism was one of the buzziest films out of this year’s Overlook Film Festival, which showed that Australian horror is having a big moment right now. It’s a mean, nasty little movie that takes the genre’s tropes and flips them on their head, creating a viewing experience that is undeniably distressing.
The film is inspired by true events in the 1990s in which a woman is pressured by her husband to seek treatment from a congregation of zealots, who attribute her condition to possession and attempt a brutal exorcism to “cure” it. Although almost everything about the movie sounds like it would be rather average, the film’s approach is quite refreshing and unique.
This is not the type of exorcism movie where the terror comes from the “possessed” character spinning their head in circles and shouting obscenities at priests. Instead, the movie almost shares more in common with a torture porn flick, as its disturbing nature comes from the atrocities that are inflicted upon the character in the name of religion.
The film does get off to a bit of a rough start, but it is worth noting that the first thirty minutes are brutal and harrowing in a way that few movies of this subgenre of horror have managed in the past. It’s not particularly graphic or gratuitous in terms of its gore, but it’s disturbing nonetheless because of the overwhelming violence committed against her.
Although the title might seem to imply that this is another demonic possession movie, it’s something much more complex and nuanced. The movie presents a harsh and depressing condemnation of the organized religion that allowed this tragedy to occur. The conflict between science and faith is nothing new for the horror genre, but Godless: The Eastfield Exorcism manages to feel refreshing thanks to its blunt, almost relentless approach.
The weakest aspect of the film is its character development, but the imagery is so effective that it will make viewers feel the emotional weight of the movie nonetheless. It’s frustrating that so much of the first thirty minutes feels wasted on characterization that isn’t as impactful as what is done in the back half anyway, but there’s no denying that the film is effective nevertheless.
The acting is quite impressive all-around. Tim Pocock is probably the biggest highlight as the religious zealot exorcist, giving a thoroughly menacing turn. However, Dan Ewing and Georgia Eyers are also quite good, having exceptional chemistry together and giving surprisingly grounded performances (even during the somewhat melodramatic first act).
Godless: The Eastfield Exorcism is a flawed movie, but there’s no denying how effective its second half manages to be. It’s a restrained film that still manages to do a lot despite not showing a ton in the way of gore or explicitly disturbing imagery.
Godless: The Eastfield Exorcism screened at the 2023 Overlook Film Festival, which ran March 30-April 2 in New Orleans, LA.