By Steph Cannon
A key desire for most writers is to craft a compelling story while also delivering something fresh and new to their audience. This is increasingly difficult to accomplish in the age of unending streaming services that all provide a plethora of content. The easier goal these days is to focus more on the old adage of taking something old and making it new again. Sure, a concept or storyline might have already been told a dozen times, but if you can tweak it enough to make it your own, there's still a chance to captivate those consuming your material.
This was clearly the intent of THE SEVENTH DAY, and it gives a valiant effort. Written and directed by Justin P. Lang, the movie takes on a familiar subject matter in horror: the exorcism, and more specifically, the exorcist. It stars Vadhir Derbez as Father Daniel Garcia, a young, inexperienced Priest on his literal first day on the job, mentored by renowned exorcist Father Peter Costello (played by Guy Pearce). Father Peter is haunted by one case in particular where he was unable to save the young victim, who perished violently after bursting into flames. The trauma of this event is a burden carried heavily by the Priest and is the cornerstone of his teachings to the impressionable Father Daniel.
The movie starts off feeling like a horror-based Training Day, with Father Peter throwing his trainee headfirst into investigating the possible demon possession of young Charlie (Brady Jenness). Charlie is being held in custody for the murder of his family, as told briefly through flashbacks. Their first visit with him plays out traditionally for this genre, with plenty of creepy demonic voices and disturbing threats from the young boy to Father Daniel. Father Peter stands nearby - but not too close - and offers sage advice to guide his student along. The one clear standout from this scene is the performance by Brady Jenness, who does a very convincing job of toggling back and forth between tortured soul and frightening entity. Unlike other exorcism movies, this one focuses less on terrifying the audience, and more on showing them a terrified character.
As the film progresses, the possession becomes more intense, while also hinting that something more sinister may be going on. It's right there on the surface and gives hope to the viewer that THE SEVENTH DAY may stand out amongst a sea of identical plot lines. The interaction between Father Daniel and Charlie, as well as the overall tone, is reminiscent of The Sixth Sense, which leads one to the natural conclusion that a plot twist is approaching.
A twist does indeed occur, but by the time it is revealed, most astute viewers will have figured it out on their own. Once this is divulged, the final act moves quickly - almost too quickly. It's not often I say this, but the movie could have used about 20 minutes more to help draw out the conclusion. It feels rushed and over-edited, and the need to savor that nice juicy twist isn't experienced as much as it should.
Overall, THE SEVENTH DAY makes a strong attempt to shine in an over-saturated horror movie subject matter. As a writer, I have a healthy respect for this intent, and props go to the entire cast, as there isn't a bad performance in the entire film. For fans of exorcism and possession stories, this is still worth viewing. There is enough ambiguity to the ending for someone to come to their own conclusions on what happens next. Which ultimately aids in what was mentioned earlier - take that old idea and spin it in a way to make it your own.
THE SEVENTH DAY is in Select Theaters and On-Demand on March 26th.