It opens with a tortured glissando of strings and a passage from the Bible, the verses of the Passover from Exodus; outside where the sun gently illuminates the trees and the serene gaze of a carved angel, Father Theo Reisinger comments to his friend Jacob that he is pale, asking if he is unwell. “I’m not the one who is sick,” is Jacob’s response, and inside the peace of the Lord is absent, his wife Anna convulsing and thrashing about accompanied by the sounds of a church organ.
Previously exorcised by Father Reisinger when she was a teenager, Anna is possessed again: “When the demon returns, its strength is sevenfold.” He has summoned Father Richard Lamont (A Haunting at the Rectory‘s Lee Bane) from the Vatican City to assist in the new attempt to save her soul, but his faith is already shaken. Father Theo tries to reassure him he is not alone – “I think all priests have doubts at some point” – but will that platitude be enough to face what is to come?
“These demons will try to drive the faithful out by bringing up personal incidents about people’s pasts and recounting personal tragedies with perverse delight,” explains Father Reisinger (Jeffrey Raggett), and that enforced confessional might have been a more interesting film, The Exorcism of Anna Ecklund instead unfolding as a series of stock situations and stilted performances which are not helped by glacial editing intended to drag the runtime to an unwarranted hour, the opening and closing credits filling the additional fifteen minutes.
From Andrew Jones, prolific writer and director of such low budget and lowbrow fare as The Amityville Asylum and Poltergeist Activity, he has neither a gift for dialogue nor character though his cast do their best with what they have and the extended shots of the locations, the long corridors and religious icons, often mercifully free of conversation, give the film desperately needed weight.
Inevitably, any horror film whose central theme is exorcism must shed the spectre of William Friedkin’s eponymous masterpiece, and here the moments are ticked off, discussions of the Bible, the crisis of faith, the accusations, the challenge of the demon’s power, but with budgetary restrictions unable to provide pea soup Anna (Theatre of Fear‘s Tiffany Ceri) is instead obliged to simply spit in the face of Father Lamont.
What The Exorcism of Anna Ecklund does have is an unexplained dream sequence of bloody dolls and inappropriately lurid lighting right out of the eighties and the sight of a Anna being whacked over the head with a bedpan in order to subdue her, but it is plagued by inconsistencies and the unshakeable malaise of indifference.
With recent home movies of Anna and Jacob (Rik Grayson) on Super 8, can it be presumed that the film is a period piece, even though there is no context given for this, the nondescript fashions offering no clue, and if so how does Father Lamont have sheets of paper apparently printed off from the Internet?
In his discussions with Anna’s best friend Laura (Melissa Bayern, principally acting with her hands) it is revealed to Father Lamont that Anna was a healer and also that there was no budget for reshoots, a random individual wandering into the background of the shot and flapping their hand at the camera before departing.
After the half hour mark it does make some attempt at individuality but all too soon loops back into the inevitability of the exorcism itself with all the usual religious nonsense delivered with an emphasis on enunciation rather than conviction by Bane and Raggett and tiresomely obvious profanity shouted by Ceri with considerably less venom than Linda Blair, shocking only to the tender ears of the wilting nuns.
Supposedly based on the alleged exorcism performed by the real Theophilus Riesinger as recounted in the Reverend Carl Vogl’s Begone Satan, The Exorcism of Anna Ecklund is a film of two halves which don’t sit comfortably together, the discussions of philosophy and faith undermined by the histrionics of the possession and devolving into the albeit entertaining nonsense of one nun being stabbed in the neck and a door repeatedly slammed on another, the whole only rendered more pompous by the reliance on Biblical rhetoric and the omnipresent church organ on Bobby Cole’s soundtrack.