After this pivotal scene, the movie flashes forward 18 years later, and Father Peter Williams still lives in Mexico where he continues his humanitarian work. His flock considers him saintly, perhaps even magical. The Vatican treats him as a shining star, the future of the Church. He harbors a dark shadow, and the exorcism that built his reputation haunts him. As a demonic sickness spreads through the village, claiming the lives of young children, he’s drawn back into the realm of devils and demons.
There’s no doubt from the opening of this earnest film from director/co-writer Alejandro Hidalgo that we’re operating within the realm of high stakes melodrama. The film’s gothic and inky black and white cinematography lead us away from naturalist framing as the true, terrible events of that first night are slowly peeled back, revealing an unforgivable crime. Rather solemn and humorless, Father Peter Williams goes above and beyond to undo his sin. He fears that the devil that possessed him that night might still be percolating in his subconscious mind. At night, he’s haunted by terrible visions, including a sunken and bruised Jesus, who terrorizes his nightmares.
The nightmares become more intense as Father Peter is gripped with more and more doubt. A mysterious possessed woman, Silvia (Raquel Rojas) seems to be the source of the unknown illness plaguing the town. Father Peter, reluctantly, believes she needs an exorcism. Here, he enlists an old friend, Father Michael Lewis (a delightful Joseph Marcell), as he doesn’t trust himself to perform the deed on his own.
The film picks up once Father Michael arrives as the somber tone is injected with more comedy. While many (if not most) of the actors are pretty wooden, Joseph Marcell embraces the film’s spirit with gumption. Every line read is a delight, and he pulls off the high camp of off-handed one-liners like “Mescal, the best holy water I’ve had in a while,” and more serious scenes with the same commitment. More than anyone else, he seems to capture the intended ethos of the film: part inquisition into the nature of temptation, part mawkish theatrics.