A story of faith’s victory over skepticism through the supernatural. Michael Kovak is the son of a mortician whose only family directed choice is to be a mortician or become a priest. So he chooses to become a priest to get away from his pain. The only problem is, he doesn’t believe in God. So at the end of seminary when he is about to tender his resignation from his priesthood process, he discovers that if he does, his $100k scholarship will be converted into a loan. His mentor priest offers him the opportunity to get Exorcism training from the Vatican before he decides. The obvious goal is that maybe a face to face encounter with supernatural evil will persuade him of supernatural good.
It’s part of the formula in these supernatural stories for the hero to be a skeptic who can explain away demonic phenomena as psychological manifestations. The battle of worldviews, naturalism and supernaturalism. Well, Michael does explain them away in the presence of unorthodox yet experienced exorcist, Father Lucas, an old man who overcame his own youthful skepticism the same way. But when the possessed victims start telling him secrets and knowledge that only spirits could know of his past, of things said in secret, and of his own dreams, Michael becomes conflicted.
The spiritual manifestations in this movie are more realistic than a standard horror movie about demons. These are not so much special effects, but more about oddities like frogs showing up, or speaking in strange voices and other languages. Some body contortions and such, but not of the Exorcist variety. In fact, there’s even a line in the movie that Lucas gives Michael when confronted with the relatively unimpressive display of possession, “what did you expect, spinning heads and pea soup?” But there is one terror that is deeper than any shock scare: The demons do know your sins, your dark secrets that haunt you with pain. Thus, the perfect metaphor of fighting one’s inner demons is captured by the external fight with real demons.
There is another line that Lucas says to Michael that captures the theme about spiritual reality versus secular skepticism: “Choosing not to believe in the devil won’t protect you from him.” Other lines that carry a surprising strong Christian understanding to the worldview of this movie: “The terror is real. You won’t defeat it unless you believe.” And this bears out when Michael is faced with his ultimate challenge: Father Lucas is possessed by a demon named Baal (like the Canaanite deity in the Old Testament) and Michael must now cast him out. But how can a man so weak in faith, fight an entity so strong? A note written to Michael when he was young echoes in his mind, “You are not alone. He is always with you.” Michael then names the demon, adjures him in the name of the Father, the creator and casts him out in the name of Jesus. I have not heard the name of Jesus uttered in such a positive way in a movie in a looooooong time. So the storytellers don’t hide the connection of the power of the cross of Jesus Christ over these demons. Impressive and faith affirming.
So Michael discovers faith in the face of true spiritual evil and becomes a priest, affirming the thing he once rejected.