Exorcism movies have tied people's stomachs in knots ever since Linda Blair turned heads in 1973's "The Exorcist." Later exorcism films, such as "Lost Souls" with Winona Ryder and "Stigmata" with Patricia Arquette, have continued in that tradition.
That makes the far more nuanced "Requiem," by German filmmaker Hans-Christian Schmid, so unexpected: There are no Satanic-sounding voices, spraying vomit or demonstrations of superhuman strength.
Instead, what we get is psychological torment and physical helplessness. Stage actress Sandra Hueller cuts a sympathetic and moving figure as Michaela Kingler, a devout college freshman desperately trying to lead a normal life while tormented by a mental ailment.
Is it spiritual distress or a psychotic break? That unanswered question looms over this disturbing and sensitively made film.
"Requiem" is said to be loosely based on the life of a West German woman who died in 1976, just as was last year's "The Exorcism of Emily Rose."
When we meet the pale-skinned, blue-eyed Michaela, she yearns to do well in school, enjoy dorm life and escape a repressive, prudish mother (Imogen Kogge). For the 21-year-old, it's her first taste of freedom after being hospitalized long stretches for what was diagnosed as epilepsy.
Michaela's small-town life, rooted in faith, is upended through friendship (Anna Blomeier) and romantic involvement (Nicholas Reinke). She takes bold risks -- including dancing uninhibited to Deep Purple's "Anthem" -- in her eagerness to experience life. But the voices she believes keep her from praying, touching a cross or holding a rosary never quite go away, restricting Michaela to her own private hell.
Michaela's loving father (Burghart Klaussner) is no less frightened or confused by what's occurring, but he gamely runs interference with her mother.
Refusing to see a medical doctor, the overly stressed Michaela turns to a young pastor who confirms her own fear that she is possessed just as her favorite saint was. And that, of course, means it's time to get out the crucifix, hold down the patient and get to work.
3 stars (out of 4)
STARRING: Sandra Huller, Burghart Klaussner and Nicholas Reinke
DIRECTOR: Hans-Christian Schmid
RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes
RATING: Not rated, but R equivalent for mature subject matter
THE LOWDOWN: A young woman suffers from a mental ailment attributed to demonic possession. In German with English subtitles.