It is based on actual facts but the narrative, I gather, has been embellished in order to grip contemporary cinema audiences.
Bearded Brit Jared Harris is cast as Joseph Coupland, an unorthodox professor at Oxford University who employs controversial methods in a dangerous experiment to rid a young woman of a demonic spirit. He surrounds himself with a group of his best students – one of them, Brian McNeil (Sam Claflin), is recording his treatment sessions on 16mm film – to implement a ritual that he believes will point to the girl’s over-active subconscious mind causing the problems.
An arresting, fierce Olivia Cooke plays the unfortunate girl, who is locked in a room in a dilapidated manor house while they play with her mind.
The setting allows filmmaker John Pogue to go retro, a move that may strike a chord in the hearts of fans of old-school horror, but despite a few interesting touches, the horrific elements are not exactly new or fresh. There are plenty of loud noises, screams, bangs, funny face-pulling, an ectoplasm occurrence, and furniture being tossed about, but very little is revealed on a more intellectual level – except the professor’s theories.
One of these is that the woman, Jane Harper, is psychotic, and he reckons her affliction could be scientifically explained as telekinetic disturbances that can be ejected and trapped in another vessel. He won’t entertain the idea that demonic possession is involved.
The production concentrates its energies on attaining high production values and using sense-battering shock tactics, but this cannot mask the wooden performances and an illogical, puerile script.
It’s impressive as an exercise in retro pastiche, but when it attempts to reinvent the genre it fails to deliver.