There is a dignified order to the rites of exorcism; investigations by the church, demonstrations that there is indeed demonic possession, the approval and sanction of senior members before the solemn ritual invokes the name of Jesus Christ and the Archangel Michael to intercede and free the trapped soul. For Richard Vanuk, it’s a little different, a phone in a suitcase which he keeps within reach in his sleazy one-room apartment, a voice telling him where to be for the next ordeal.
Mother Janice exudes class as she opens the door for Vanuk, asking if he’s “the witch doctor.” Her daughter vomiting and screaming constantly Janice says doctors are useless, but as much as mama wants her girl fixed she wants something for herself too, yet as trashy as Janice is Vanuk manages to look worse, with his hip flask and his plaid shirt and his Polaroid which captures the face of the demon before he begins.
An atypical approach, his method is to antagonise the demon, to goad it into action before he makes his move. It’s risky, but it works, the demon underestimating the power of the accidental exorcist, seeing nothing other than the wreck in progress of the shambolic man who washes down little blue pills with whatever bottle is to hand, who eats Spam from the can with a plastic fork while hiding from his landlady’s son, the rent overdue again.
And on it goes, the toll becoming heavier and not worth the paltry cash and pot plants he receives for his efforts, waking in strange places, the sloughed off slick of tormented souls pooling in the corner of his bedsit, a gathering shadow only he can see, reminding him of an unwanted calling he cannot escape except through drowning himself in oblivion.
From prolific director Daniel Falicki, he had not originally planned to star in Accidental Exorcist but the loss of their leading man the day before shooting required him to pull double duty on the script written by The Last Vampyre on Earth’s Warren Croyle and 3:33 a.m.‘s Sheri Beth Dusek along with Falicki himself, an undoubtedly stressful situation which has fed into his instinctual performance as Richard Vanuk, a rock bottom alcoholic down to his last bottle of cough syrup.
A bleak and unforgiving film whose threadbare budget gives it all the sheen of a Canadian public television production from the videotaped eighties, it is populated by desperate people, each successive exorcism Vanuk is called to perform different, uniquely weird and escalating in craziness, wrongfooting expectation by introducing characters after they have been saved, what was a snarling shell suddenly conversational, eloquent, human, a reminder that despite appearances grace does persist in this miserable world.
A physical film of blood and vomit and snot and sweat, for all the crassness there is genuine emotion in these moments, and it’s a far sight better than anything the blandly corporate recent television version of The Exorcist. A far cry from Fathers Karras or Merrin, Vanuk is aware of the legacy of his singular talents: “My dad let me watch The Exorcist in third grade but he would never let me watch RoboCop. Too violent.”
Devoid of frills, fancy setups, sets or lighting as it picks at the scabs of its stigmata, Accidental Exorcist is unconventional and rough around the edges – hell, it’s rough in the middle – but the absurdity works, and despite whatever undeniable flaws it possesses it is a more honest film than The Exorcism of Anna Ecklund, Forsaken or the more widely distributed Deliver Us from Evil.