A deep and dark drama exploring the events that lead a young woman to believe herself possessed. Soda Pictures UK R2 DVD.
Michaela Klingler is a young woman living in rural Bavaria in the 1970s, brought up in a traditional Catholic household, she surprises her parents by being keen to depart for University, despite suffering from severe epilepsy. They agree to let he go and while studying she meets her old friend Hanna Imhof and falls for the kindly Stefan Weiser, adapting herself to the modern, liberal University life. However, he illness seems to be getting worse, possibly exacerbated by the contrast between her happiness in her studies and her traditional family life with a strictly disproving mother. A strong, seemingly epileptic attack, while on a pilgrimage, brings back concerns about her illness, but she finds herself unable to pray without becoming unwell and is convinced that she might be suffering from possession...
The real story of Anneliese Michel, a young German woman who died during a series of exorcisms in 1976 that forms the basis for Requiem was also used as inspiration by the American production The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005). The American film updated the story, moved it to America and presented it from the viewpoint of the Priest, forced to defend his actions in court - although it never confirms if Emily Rose is the victim of a real possession or just suffering from mental illness, it certainly seems play up the horror aspects to the fore and sways strongly towards the authenticity of her demonic possession. Requiem takes the opposite approach, retaining the 1970s German setting, it is a deliberately low-key story that focuses on Michaela's life in the run-up to the exorcism attempts and while never specifically denouncing the idea that she is really possessed, it seems to sway far more in favour of the symptoms being a reflection of her medical condition and the trauma of the upheaval in her life.
Writer Bernd Lange goes for the very slow burn here, despite the often sensationalised topic, he makes Requiem a drama rather than a horror film - an opening title card tells us that this story is inspired by the real event, but contains fictional characters and events. If anything this film actually underplays much of the factually reported story of Anneliese, choosing to emphasise less the specifics of her 'possession' symptoms, the medical intervations or the proceedural actions of her parents in finding a priest who would perform an exorcism and focus instead on an in-depth understanding of the contrast between her highly conservative and unsettled home life and the comparative and initially quite uncomfortable liberalism of her university.
The most evident proof of Lange's determination to avoid Requiem becoming a 'horror' film is that we never see Michaela's visions - although every scene revolves around the doomed victim, he keeps us outside of her head so, like her friends and family, we only have the external appeances and descriptions to try and understand what she is going through. Fortunately, while eshewing the usual horror tropes, Lange is more than capable of keeping the film moving on dialogue and character alone, maintaining a fair pace where lesser writers might easily have stagnated. With the ominous knowledge of the Michaela's inevitable fate, he shrouds the entire film in an uncomfortablly grim atmosphere, particularly as we see the machinations from the family priests to bring up the idea of possession. The film ends at a good point, stopping short of showing us the full exorcisms themselves which are not really necessary for an understanding of the story.
Interestingly though, rather than the attack on the church that this film might on first impressions seem to be, or that would certainly have been very easy to do given the storyline, Lange makes it clear that the Priests are only acting in what they believe are the best interests of Michaela. They go to great lengths to comfort her, repeatedly travelling to the University to see her when she is sick, in contrast we only get a single brief look at the medical treatment in which Michaela is curtly and disinterestedly dealt with by a nurse and the university itself, supposedly a beacon of enlightenment, is notable for its complete absence during her sickness. William Peter Blatty's iconic exorcism novel and its subsequent film adaptation show a medical community going to great lengths to diagnose the maladies affecting their victim, only turning to the religious solution when all others have failed - here instead we get a probably far more realistic approach as experienced by many sufferers from conditions as complex and unknown as epilepsy, making Michaela and her family's turn to a religious solution so much more understandable.
Director Hans-Christian Schmid follows the storyline in eschewing glossy Hollywood horror in favour of an almost Dogme styled approach, with grainy, naturally lit scenes and a camera that feels like it is detachedly watching Michaela's struggle. The script never lets us see what is really going on inside Michaela's head and the roaming, zooming camerawork forces the audience to watch on, like Michaela's friends, powerless to interject or understand her real struggling. The 1970s atmosphere is perfectly captured and in keeping with the naturalistic style, background music is limited but effective with some contemporary tracks adding period flavour.
A character driven drama requires good actors and this film is blessed with an incredible cast, Schmid mostly uses actors with stage rather than cinematic experience and the lack of familiar faces aides the film in creating a realistic style. The lead role is played by debuting actress Sandra Hüller - compared to most other exorcism victims she gets more acting than screaming to do in this part, but it is still an incredibly challenging role and she performs it with aplomb, conveying a desperate helplessness. Burghart Klaußner as her father also gives a similarly strong performance.
Requiem is a unique take on the possession genre, eschewing gory, over-the-top horrors in favour of a dark, minimalist and genuinely upsetting drama that gives a non-sensationalist view of the events leading up to an exorcism. Although certainly not for anyone wanting a traditional horror story, this is an expertly written, beautifully directed film that benefits from some superb acting. Very highly recommended.
|Anyone famous in it?||Some very good talent, but no-one well known.|
|Directed by anyone interesting?||Hans-Christian Schmid - a German director at home directing through provoking dramas including Crazy (2000) and Lichter (2003) as well as several films with writer Bernd Lange including Storm (2009)|
|Any gore or violence ?||None|
|Any sex or nudity?||None|
|Who is it for?||One for anyone wanting to see a non-sensationalised take on the Anneliese Michel tale.
|Visuals||Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour
The film was shot in a deliberately grainy and brown tinted style, this is transferred well here.
|Audio||German stereo - sounds fine.|
|Extras||The disc includes:
|Region||Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL|
|Other regions?||Released in Germany by Unset, includes a 5.1 audio track along with audio commentary and interviews - no English subtitles. Released in the US by Genius Pictures with English and Spanish subs and a German 5.1 track but no extra features.|
|Cuts?||Fully uncut. The print used is German language.|