More head scratching than scares in Exorcism in Utero
Take a stroll down the smalltown streets of Blue Velvet. Add a dash of Rear Window, and a heaping portion of It Follows. Let's say in the basement, Hellraiser. Sturm und drang from The Exorcist. And then a dollop of It's Alive and maybe even The Muppets. Stuff it all in a blender, mash it up real good, and you have something like Exorcism in Utero. I say "something like" because despite all the influences it wears on its sleeve, EIU manages to be its own wacky self.
Written and directed with uncharacteristic (for a budding "auteur") modesty by Erik Skybak, who has worked on other titles like Pillow Party Massacre (on camera) and Cross Hollow (as editor), Exorcism in Utero is the exact quality of a film you'd expect to go straight to VOD: amateur acting, homes used as sets, camerawork designed to hide zero set decoration. Characters talk to themselves by way of exposition. Yet, the funky dedication of EIU's actors and the narrative that keeps us wondering what happens next makes it an enjoyable experience.
In a nondescript town, a nondescript pregnant woman named Herma (Sam Bangs) moves into a nondescript house to sit while the nondescript owners, whitebread religious zealots, go on vacation. Herma is told not to go in the basement, so of course, the first thing she does is go in the basement. There she finds BDSM gear and a mysterious ring that once she puts it on won’t come off.
Herma is being spied on from a neighboring window nine-year-old boy Peter O'Neill (Leonard Hoge) who has an affinity for VHS tapes. Peter's family invites Herma over for a barbecue, during which she divulges what she's found, and creates a weird bond with Peter. The ring, meanwhile, is turning her skin gray and scaly, about which she seems unconcerned until she is completely covered. She's rotting on the outside because of what she’s carrying on the inside.
And we haven't even gotten to Father Bresson (Calvin Morie McCarthy), the exorcist with Mommy issues.
Yikes. This is a lot, and it doesn’t make much sense. It looks to have been shot over a weekend. The room walls are curiously blank; when Herma goes over to the O'Neil's, long stretches of the scenes are soundless, no talking, no music, no foley, not even ambient traffic noise. That changes later with stock ominous music, but the effect is less intentionally unsettling than the product of a miniscule budget.
Yet, as I said, Exorcism in Utero has its own offbeat charm. The actors are all in, for better or worse, with special nod to the aforementioned principals and Stephanie Leet (Peter's mom), Allegra Sweeney (his sister), and Steve Larkin, a tattooed (?) Brit (?) who plays Peter's father. They’re all having a good time and are not self-consciously stiff like many newbie performers.
Besides, Exorcism in Utero (a title is as literal to its story as Cocaine Bear) has its directorial flourishes, including Herma's scaly transformation in a montage of mirrors revealed by wiping off bathroom mist. This is a real seat-of-your-pants production team, but at least they care.
For all this incipient horror, however, and its beserk WTF? factor, one question goes unanswered: why is it subtitled "Do Shrimps Make Good Mothers"?
Oh, I get it…
Exorcism In Utero. Directed by Erik Skybak, 2023. Released by Breaking Glass Pictures/Raptor FX Studio. 90 minutes. On digital platforms and VOD.