What’s the difference between a Polish exorcism movie, and every other exorcism movie you’ve ever seen?
In Poland, the priests and monks summon Satan so’s he can take over and begin his cloven-hoofed reign.
“Hellhole” is a Polish exorcism thriller that tries its hand at just that.
It’s undone by a lot of things, I thought. The victims are unnamed women and barely make it into the credits. That lowers the stakes to zero. There’s no pace to it, little urgency and even less rising suspense.
So don’t blame that “Polish joke” plot alone for the ways co-writer/director Bartosz Kowalski screws the Polish pooch on this one.
A priest has been summoned to a Church-operated “sanitarium” in 1987, just before the communist dictatorship unraveled and Eastern Europe tore free from Russian dominance.
A young priest, Father Marek (Piotr Zurawski) has been summoned by the Prior (Olaf Lubaszenko), who needs help with an exorcism.
“It’s so hard to find an exorcist these days,” the Prior complains, in Polish with English subtitles, or dubbed into English. None of the young priests in the Polish People’s Republic want to learn the ritual and suffer through the ordeal.
But there’s a suspicion between the two men. The Prior has Marek’s bags searched. He “tests” the priest’s Latin.
And Marek? He’s got a hidden compartment in his suitcase. There are newspaper clippings about “missing young women.” And there’s a pistol.
Something weird is happening in this place. A prologue showed us police (called Citizen’s Militia) shooting a priest about to sacrifice a baby some 30 years before.
Now Marek has found a way inside this…cult. He’s a cop. He’s going to uncover these “scam” exorcisms, maybe free victims and find out how many “failed exorcisms” are buried behind this monastery.
Nothing goes according to plan. Everything goes according to the (entirely too obvious) script.
As Marek digs up clues to how a possessed woman’s bed shakes, how a crucifix catches fire and the like, we and he are sure it’s all some perverse fakery. But is it?
Some of the effects are pretty good — a bit of business in which a monk disintegrates into a cloud of flies, body, habit and shoes.
But for a 90 minute movie, this beast is one leaden lump.
I couldn’t get over how little heed was paid to the female victims, but that fell by the wayside as an abrupt change in point of view kicks in. For a moment, it almost lapses into farce. That’s a serious stumble in tone.
There’s a great gloom to it all, especially the exorcism scene with all the monks present, watching the ritual by (hand held mostly) candelight. Fights? Jolts? Suspense? Nah.
This stinker smells like 10-days-left-in-the-sun borscht.
Rating: TV-MA, gore, violence, some nudity, profanity
Cast: Piotr Zurawski, Olaf Lubaszenko, Sebastian Stankiewicz and Rafal Iwaniuk
Credits: Directed by Bartosz Kowalski, scripted by Bartosz M. Kowalski and Mirella Zaradkiewicz. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:31