Audiences attending this year’s Overlook Film Festival were lucky enough to catch the world premiere of a disturbing new Australian horror film, Godless: The Eastfield Exorcism. Directed by Nick Kozakis and written by Alexander Angliss-Wilson, the film tells the story of a young married couple living in rural Eastfield, Australia. When the wife, Lara, begins to struggle with her inner demons, her extremely religious husband, Ron, becomes convinced his wife is possessed and resorts to drastic measures to try to save her soul.
There have been countless exorcism films over the years. There have also been a number of exorcism films that tackle the idea of demons vs mental illness. Yet none of them have felt quite so horrifying in how real they seem as Godless: The Eastfield Exorcism does. Even though the film takes place in 1994, it feels like something that could easily happen in rural areas even today. Lara is by no means against religion, but it’s clear she understands she is suffering from a form of schizophrenia and sees a psychiatrist to get treatment for her mental illness. Ron, on the other hand, is a very religious man who frequently goes to church. He believes Lara’s not mentally ill, but sick from being possessed. There is clearly love between the couple, but his belief is so strong that it creates strain on their relationship.
While Godless: The Eastfield Exorcism features some disturbing scenes of demonic imagery, what make it truly terrifying is the actions of the congregation. In so many exorcism films, audiences are made to fear the person possessed. Yet this film manages to make the religious zealots more frightening than any demon, especially the man brought in by the congregation to perform the exorcism. It’s a unique take on this subgenre of horror and one I hope more filmmakers take note of in the future. The way the filmmakers delicately balance showing mental health struggles in an empathetic light while also showcasing the dangerous side of blind belief and organized religion is brilliant.
To go along with the dramatic and suspenseful plot, the film also has a host of phenomenal performances. Georgia Eyers (Violett, The Xrossing) stars as Lara. The single most powerful aspect of Eyers’s portrayal of Lara is the vulnerability she brings to the character. It’s clear a lot of care and consideration went into how she wanted to play Lara and it makes the character that much more compelling to watch. Eyers is also skilled at quickly changing how she plays Lara during moments when she is having a manic or demonic episode. Everything from her eyes, voice, and body language changes in an instant and it is fascinating to watch. Dan Ewing (Love and Monsters, Beast No More) is also great as Lara’s husband, Ron. As previously mentioned, Ron obviously adores his wife and wants nothing more than her health and happiness. Ewing excels at conveying that affection for Lara, but he is even more powerful in the moments when the inner turmoil shows on Ron’s face. He is torn between doing what his faith says is right and his wife’s happiness, and Ewing is wonderful at exhibiting that side of Ron. The pair also have a powerful, loving chemistry together on screen.
The single most terrifying performance in Godless: The Eastfield Exorcism, and perhaps any film I’ve seen in ages, comes from Tim Pocock (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Red Billabong) as Daniel James King. Daniel is referred to as the “tool of God” and clearly believes he is doing God’s bidding, despite performing dangerous exorcisms that are not sanctioned by the Vatican. Pocock brings such an intensity to this role and even alludes to Daniel’s enjoyment during these often violent exorcisms. It’s the stuff of my worst nightmares.
When it comes to the visual and sound aspects of Godless: The Eastfield Exorcism, there is a lot to enjoy. The production design and costuming are fairly simple, which helps to convey a sense of living in a remote area on the 90’s, with little to no technology present aside from old telephones. It also creates the sense of isolation Lara feels being surrounded by nothing but country and Church-goers. When it comes to Lara’s episodes, there is some practical effects work to create demonic imagery. While it does allow for haunting scenes, the makeup effects don’t quite live up to the level of the rest of the film. One thing that does add to the appeal of the film is the beautiful musical score by composer Dmitri Golovko. His evocative score is a splendid match to the film.
Godless: The Eastfield Exorcism feels like a raw, realistic take on possession and mental health that is as empathetic as it is chilling. The film takes concepts and ideas horror fans have seen before, but brings them to the screen in a way that still feels fresh. With such a compelling story and absolutely astounding performances, Godless: The Eastfield Exorcism manages to draw in viewers and grip them tight until the credits roll. Both Kozakis and Angliss-Wilson have created a powerful work of cinema that is guaranteed to make audiences take notice. I have no doubt Godless: The Eastfield Exorcism will be in my best of 2023 list at the end of the year, and I suspect it will be on many others as well.
OVERALL RATING: 9/10