Beyond the Hills

Directed By: Cristian Mungiu

Starring: Cristina Flutur, Cosmina Stratan, Valeriu Andriutâ, Dana Tapalagâ, Catalina Harabagiu, Gina Tandura, Vica Agache, Nora Covali, Dionisie Vitcu, Ionut Ghinea, Liliana Mocanu, Doru Ana, and Costache Babii

Exorcism movies are frequent, but intelligent ones are a rare gem.  Like the horror genre as a whole, teen-oriented mindless exorcism movies are the norm.  We're plagued with films like The Devil Inside and The Last Exorcism Part II as opposed to genuinely terrifying explorations of what true evil is.  Nobody takes an intellectual look at exorcisms and what they really entail.  Well, Romanian drama Beyond the Hills has finally given me what I've been wanting for so long.  There's just one problem.  I don't like what I get.

Alina (Cristina Flutur) has returned from Germany to visit her friend and former lesbian lover Voichita (Cosmina Stratan), a nun at an Orthodox convent in the hills of Romania.  Alina gets a firsthand taste of Voichita's impoverished life without electricity or running water.  She witnesses her friend's strict adherence to the words and beliefs of Mother Superior (Dana Tapalagâ) and the priest she lovingly calls "Papa" (Valeriu Andriutâ).  This is not the girl Alina has known since childhood, the lover with whom she lived at the orphanage.  At the same time, Alina's not quite the same girl either.  There's a darkness within her that's about to come to light.

Clocking in at more than two and a half hours, Beyond the Hills is one unnecessarily exhausting religious drama.  Director Cristian Mungiu takes an intellectual, somewhat critical look at the spiritual exercise of casting out the evil spirits that take hold of the minds and bodies of people like you and me.  Mungiu is a talented filmmaker and has a clear vision of what he wants to depict.  However, he crams this movie full of pointless minutiae that drags the life out of the movie.  There's no reason that it should have taken 90 minutes to get to the actual exorcism.  If he had cut an hour of the fluff out of the film, this could have been a far more effective movie.

Beyond dragging out the movie, Mungiu puts too much emphasis on mundane things in Beyond the Hills.  He hints at the film's major plot developments as opposed to actually depicting them.  Instead of really highlighting Alina's dark acts, he often just shows their aftermath.  Instead of focusing on the actual exorcism and the readings, we just hear echoes of the Father's tireless efforts to cast out the evil spirit that possesses Alina.  I understand these are exercises in subtle filmmaking, but that's not what makes this movie engaging and appealing to an audience.  Mungiu needs to show what we came to see.

Despite being well-acted and being genuinely unnerving, I have to give Beyond the Hills a 0.09% rating.  The movie offers an intellectual look at exorcisms, but it doesn't change the fact that it's entirely too long or that we don’t really get what we came to see.  I'm someone who rarely complains about the length of a movie.  The fact that I'm counting length against Beyond the Hills is saying something.  Have a few gin and tonics with this one.