Current Issue #488

Film Review:
The Mark of the Devil

This Mexican horror drama tries desperately hard to be scary, but is spoiled by oodles of clichés, a couple of ludicrous plot turns and an absurd sense of unmitigated seriousness. 

Co-produced and directed by Diego Cohen, it’s the sort of wannabe-scary epic that might perhaps be interesting, if only we hadn’t seen all this nonsense before in movies like the original Evil Deads and that American classic about exorcism from 1973… now what was it called again?

An opening scene set 30 years ago has a small child having a demon cast out of him (or maybe not?) by a priest, and it’s the sort of sequence where you can’t help but wonder what the production did to not severely traumatise the little lad, as he rolled around growling on that bloodstained bed. Cut to now and we meet Cecilia de la Cueva (Lumi Cavazos), a Professor of Philology in Mexico City who mysteriously receives the oldest book she’s ever seen, a fragile-looking tome that’s quite obviously intended to be the Necronomicon as seen in the Evil Dead pics and mentioned in the endlessly-adored works of old-school novelist H.P. Lovecraft (1890 – 1937).

The whole Lovecraft thing positively permeates popular culture, and his books are sometimes filmed directly (like Color Out Of Space) but mostly just evoked in creepers either vaguely (The Lighthouse) or a little more explicitly (Underwater), so you do have to wonder why Cecelia doesn’t realise how dangerous the book is right from the start and then leave it well alone. Or, indeed, why she takes it home and pops it in a cupboard, so that her rebellious teen daughters Camila (Arantza Ruiz) and Fernanda (Nicolasa Ortíz Monasterio) can get their hands on it.

Pretty soon Camila is possessed (although her family at first think it’s too much alcohol and ecstasy), and she naturally begins exhibiting the standard symptoms: dead black eyes; coughing up blood; parading around in the nude; swearing in a deep voice (yawn!); and being generally ungrateful. Nattily-dressed exorcist Karl Nuni (Eivaut Rischen) is duly summoned, and he teams up with grim junkie priest Tomás (Eduardo Noriega, the internationally best-known player here) to take on the evil forces in what turns out to be a fizzer of an unholy fight.

Thuddingly derivative, this has one plot quirk that would qualify as unusual if it wasn’t so silly (spoiler alert: Karl is the possessed child of the opening sequence all-grown-up, and he still has a demon inside him, or something, which gives him dumb superheroic powers), but the rest of Cohen’s epic is hopelessly humourless and tedious.

And, again, why do modern filmmakers bother with the whole done-to-death possession subgenre anyway? There really is only one saga about demons and exorcists worth remembering, and it’s one of the greatest American movies of the 1970s, and… um… what was it again? Sorry!

Reviewer Rating

Mark Of The Devil (MA) is now streaming on Netflix

DM Bradley

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