The Exorcism of Carmen Farias (El Exorcismo de Carmen Farías) has its international première at FrightFest 2021
When Rocio (Patricia Martínez) dies at the beginning of The Exorcism of Carmen Farias (El Exorcismo de Carmen Farías), in her will she leaves to her adult daughter Carmen (Camila Sodi) the rural home of her own mother – and Carmen’s grandmother – Consuelo (María del Carmen Farías). This is a confusing time for Carmen, contending not only with the loss of her mother, but with the surprise that her long-dead grandmother’s house, which Carmen has not visited since childhood, was not, as she had assumed, sold off years ago; and as Carmen contemplates this peculiar matrilineal legacy, she is also wondering, after a series of miscarriages, if she might be the last in her female line, unable – or perhaps unwilling – to bear a child with her husband Julián (Juan Pablo Castañeda).
Sealed at its windows with weather-worn religious icons, and at its front door with wax, Consuelo’s house is very much of the gothic variety – an imposing stone structure, somewhat dilapidated, with creaking floorboards, noisy pipes and flickering lights. As Julián’s job summons him back to Mexico City, journalist Carmen stays behind, hoping to get to know her late grandmother a little better by exploring her one-time home, and also to start work on her next article. In the end she will combine both activities by writing a piece about Consuelo, who suddenly becomes more interesting once Carmen unearths a collection of VHS tapes that show grandma participating in several Catholic exorcisms in the bedroom. Carmen turns to the old, now blind Father Juan Navarro (Juan Carlos Colombo), first for information about the rituals in which he had once played a prominent part, and then for help when things start going bump in the night. Yet as this film’s very title implies, Carmen is about to discover that she has her own long-forgotten connections to this house’s history, and the devil is already inside.
Directed by Rodrigo Fiallega (Ricochet, 2020), The Exorcism of Carmen Farías is set mostly within the confines of the old dark house, and milks the creepiness of its interiors for all that they are worth. Not only are these spaces generously furnished with religious paraphernalia, frightening paintings, old dolls, unreliable electrics and literal found footage (in an outmoded format, naturally), but cinematographer Carolina Costa likes to make circuits through the rooms in unnervingly disembodied sweeps, and even, in one bravura single-take tracking shot, heads from upstairs where Carmen lies unconscious on the floor to downstairs where, some two decades earlier, Consuelo’s funeral is taking place, with the 12-year-old Carmen (Lucy Paez) in attendance. This direct connection forged between past and present reveals Carmen’s unresolved guilt and trauma, in a film whose protagonist is as haunted as the house she briefly reclaims (before remembering what she did there). There may be more female Fariases to come down the line, but we suspect that the family trauma may still be their inheritance.
strap: Rodrigo Fiallega’s ‘Mexorcism’ movie confronts a journalist with the diabolical past that her family has kept hidden from her.
© Anton Bitel