Director: Xavier Gens
Writer: Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes
Producer: Peter Safran, Leon Clarance, Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes
Stars: Sophie Cookson, Corneliu Ulici, Ada Lupu, Brittany Ashworth, Catalin Babliuc, Matthew Zajac, Ivan Gonzalez, Javier Botet
A skeptical journalist investigates the case against a Romanian priest accused of murdering a nun during an exorcism.
“Inspired by actual events,” director Xavier Gens’ “The Crucifixion” comes from the 2005 case of a mentally ill nun who died following a haywire exorcism in Tanacu, Romania. 23-year-old Maricica Irina Cornici had been formally diagnosed with schizophrenia. Maverick priest Daniel Petre Corogeanu stuck to a second opinion of demonic possession. With nuns helping to hold her down, Father Corogeanu led a several-day ceremony culminating in Sister Cornici being chained to a cross. It also culminated in her death from dehydration, exhaustion, and a lack of oxygen. Corogeanu lost his frock as well as his freedom, when he and the nuns went to prison for Cornici’s murder.
The names have been changed. The date too. But the basic story remains the same for the fictionalized film.
Plucky New York reporter with an English accent Nicole Rawlins wants to cover the arrest of Father Dumitru for Sister Adelina’s crucifixion death during a failed exorcism. Her editor Phil, who is also her uncle for an additionally irrelevant character connection, worries Nicole’s fractured faith gives her too much of a cynical slant to be impartial. Phil signs off on her pitch anyway, sending Nicole to Romania for a series of sit-down as well as walk-and-talk interviews with everyone involved.
Nicole follows a connect-the-dots conversational trail between medical professionals and the bishop responsible for interrupting the exorcism, all of whom corroborate official claims that Father Dumitru killed a sick woman. On the other side of her investigation, Nicole meets another young nun and a local village priest who are certain a dangerous demon named Agares did indeed possess Adelina.
Not knowing what to think initially, Nicole’s own beliefs are challenged when haunting nightmares infer that the full story isn’t as open and shut as she assumed. Complicating matters is Nicole’s unexpected romantic interest in her top source Father Anton. More worrisome is Anton’s insistence that Agares has the power to possess anyone, and Nicole’s doubts about God make her the demon’s ideal next target.
When Screamfest announced its first wave of programming for their 2016 festival, “The Crucifixion” had a prominent place in the promised lineup. When the festival schedule was formalized one month later however, the film weirdly disappeared without a whisper as to why. “The Crucifixion” never actually screened and it would be another year before a public audience could finally see the movie.
That’s not a particularly interesting tidbit of trivia. Truth be told, “The Crucifixion” is such a generically shallow exorcism thriller that I fear there isn’t enough notable about it to work into a full-length review. Hence my attempts to create content using the “true story” recap and sudden pull from its L.A. premiere, possibly because someone thought a retool or quieter release would be preferable.
What’s there to say about Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes’ script? The deep characters and deeper creeps of their “The Conjuring” screenplays are nowhere to be found in this yawningly calm story centered almost exclusively on verbal interactions. What can I say about the acting? Sophie Cookson reads like Emilia Clarke-Lite, either pouting or emoting next to no expression at all for a charmlessly detached protagonist. What’s left to say about the overall film? Xavier Gens knows how to visually construct a movie, as editing is sharp, Romanian scenery looks terrific, and the camera creatively captures Gens’ careful staging. Too bad these techniques aren’t applied to gripping fiction.
Now what do we talk about?
“The Crucifixion” plays a lot like a really boring Nancy Drew mystery. Nicole’s journalism skills are seemingly limited to silently and slowly skulking about old churches, monasteries, and subterranean cellars. She’s not a richly developed personality. She’s an eyeline motivating continuous cuts to establishing shots of architecture, horizons, or other images of momentary interest.
Up until a climactic possession sequence, and save for a few frenzied flashbacks, the most action seen in the movie involves Nicole hopping a high fence to get past a locked gate, or a car making a screeching U-turn after a phone call provides urgent information. Dull spooks come from cobwebbed environments, candles blowing out by themselves, or similarly tame portents of minor evil such as a dead fly appearing in Nicole’s wine.
I could stretch this space more by illustrating how Gens gives away his desperation to add weight that the thin setup won’t allow. Seeing as how I am at the desired word target after all, I’ll stop with a satisfied feeling that I’ve made my middling opinion of the movie clear. With unimpressive scope and a casual approach to inducing unease, “The Crucifixion” is a mediocre at best entry in the demonic possession subgenre, and one that won’t be applauded for any significant reason.
Review Score: 40