Beyond the Hills Movie Review
When is an exorcism not an exorcism? And when is an exorcism movie not at all an exorcism movie? In Beyond the Hills, writer/director Cristian Mungis (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) takes a raw and sparing look at the true story of a failed Romanian exorcism that occurred in 2005. You'll find no green vomit or flying objects here, as Beyond the Hills is less about exorcism and more about how dangerous blind faith can be.
Beyond the Hills is a bleak, slow-boil film that features subdued performances and a nuanced screenplay. At two-and-a-half hours, with subtitles and little in the way of anything happening, the movie isn't for everyone, especially not horror fans. To be clear, Beyond the Hills is about an exorcism - it isn't an exorcism movie, supernatural or otherwise.
It took me well over an hour to figure out what the movie was about, and that was only after I accidentally read a brief synopsis online while taking a break.
And Beyond the Hills is worthy of a break. It is long, drawn out and at times too slow for its own good. It hedges on pretentiousness at times, dwelling way too long on little moments that could have been cut or tightened for the sake of balancing nuance with pace. Cosmina Stratan, who plays the nun Voichita and only friend of Alina, the stricken outsider who comes to visit her, is good, but Mungis keeps her so quiet and unassuming (not unlike the rest of the cast) it's extremely frustrating.
Yet despite its length and complete resistance to pacing changes, Beyond the Hills has to be appreciated. It is well executed and looks terrific. More importantly, it is sad and oddly disturbing, much more so than the slate of exorcism horror movies that hit theaters each year. While the film never gives a definitive answer, the reality is clear: Alina was a troubled girl who probably suffers from schizophrenia, yet blind faith took her treatment in a different direction than what she needed.
The story is more disturbing because it's true, and that's why Beyond the Hills succeeds. It isn't entertaining, and it is bleak, but it is also a well made film.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.