We’re all familiar with exorcism movies. Whether it’s the head-turning anguish of The Exorcist or the fun of its many spiritual sequels, horror fans have been entertained by them for decades and the idea of possession has been woven into tales for centuries. The truth is, with so many stories in this vein, the subgenre often feels bloated but fear not; a new and clever film has proven there’s still life in tales of the demonic. Legions was the best surprise of Fantasia Fest because it embraced the ridiculousness with open arms and had an undeniable heart.
We begin the story with Antonio, an Argentinian that travels the jungle helping villagers battle demonic spirits wherever he finds them because he supposedly comes from a line of "sacred men" adept at fighting evil in the world. After his wife is killed, he tries to protect his daughter Helena from the demon Kuraya that is determined to end his lineage. Helena grows to resent him and civilized society sees him as a madman so he’s put in a mental asylum. Much of this is revealed in flashbacks and narration from Germán De Silva as the oldest version of Antonio and his performance can’t be understated. He brings gravitas and a quiet grace to the role that is essential, joining the likes of Max von Sydow and Patrick Wilson as the most competent demon fighters put to screen.
De Silva is exceptional and the script gives him the support he requires. He sits quietly in the theater as patients act out a script from his own life, many eagerly inquiring as to whether the stories are true or not, but their enthusiasm clearly troubles him. I wonder how one patient keeps getting his costume somehow despite the orderlies restraining him multiple times. Antonio is reluctant to share, but when he does, he’s revealing details to his fellow patients as well as us as an intrigued audience. He’s solemn and more concerned for his now adult daughter played by Lorena Vega who lives in the city and works at a corporate office where she’s struggling to develop catchy slogans. As Antonio plots his escape from the asylum, he treats voodoo rituals with sincerity that is admired even as the spells he’s casting illicit laughs because of how much fun they are. You do pity the poor guard that is…let’s say bent out of shape by Antonio’s magic but that’s intentional. Dark humor is used throughout the film with excellent timing and context.
Director Fabian Forte knows how to draw us into a world that would otherwise be ridiculous. He builds his world with clawed fingers and a blood red moon, but the focus is on a father desperate to protect his daughter at all cost while trying to adjust to a world that has moved into a more technological age. When he appears before her in her office building, the wide room accentuates the years and distance lost between them that can’t be recovered. You can feel the complexities in these performances that counter the bluntness of the supporting cast. In a story where the magic often comes across as quirky, the emotional weight still bleeds through. It’s a tough balance and when the demon takes a new form in the finale, there will be debate. Some will be in the mood for quick shots and makeup effects resembling The Evil Dead and some will not. Regardless, this is a fun film with satisfying payoffs. When skeptics begin running through the hospital in the climax, I began chuckling. The storytelling is decisively old-school with story beats that are direct and to the point . I have no real complaints, though I believe a little more time could’ve been spent on the finale. However, this could just be the same habit I always get in when watching quality films; not wanting them to end.
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