The Seventh Day is an Exercise in What Not to Do.
Young priest Daniel Garcia (Vadhir Derbez) is recruited by the Archbishop (Stephen Lang) to join unconventional Father Peter Costello (Guy Pearce) in exorcising a possessed boy in the 2021 Training Day meets The Exorcist horror tale The Seventh Day. Father Peter has his own rocky past learning the ropes from Father Louis (Keith David), but writer and director Justin P. Lange’s (The Dark) film doesn’t take its own advice – suffering from thin storytelling and not so shocking giveaways.
1995 prayers, recitations, and Pope John Paul II footage open The Seventh Day as the crucifix is ineffective against rattling beds, child possessions, evil temptations, and terrible consequences. Though off to a disturbing start, wise horror viewers know where we’re going from here. Demonic possession reports are on the rise across the country, and while the Vatican is generally against controversial exorcisms, a few dedicated rogue priests have vanquished in private. The Seventh Day does a lot of telling rather than showing – treating this intriguing history as throwaway exposition for our rookie’s one-day exorcism test. Evil is said to be clever, unpredictable, hiding in unexpected places, and ready to multiply, but the begrudging teamwork, contrived field exercises, and devilish ruses lead to ridiculously easy encounters. Characters don’t mention a critical plot element about a boy murdering his family until they drive up to the crime scene, waxing instead on who’s up to the task or cowering like a regular Sunday sermon priest. Our young Father can see flashbacks inside the killer house, but are these taunting visions, a conveniently intuitive recruit, ghosts, or just movie-making magic? Though admittedly freaky, the apparitions noticing the priest watching them cut off their clues, delaying what viewers can already deduce. They need proof of possession in this murder case for an official exorcism blessing, but the Archbishop already said this is unofficial and a little boy pinning down our young priest and talking creepy while our scared recruit shouts for help isn’t that much evidence anyway. We know the movie-making rites of exorcism and this is supposed to be Be Gone Training 101, however, the rules herein aren’t clear – demon names are given freely, supernatural doorways open or close, and a Ouija board comes in handy. Although filming scenes out of order is expected, many sequences play as if they have no idea what was said in the scenes prior thanks to contradicting plot progressions, repeated character flip-flopping, and everything thrown at the screen in world logic be damned. The Seventh Day detours with typical dark haunted house explorations, flashlights, and boo shocks under the bed. Flickering lights, spooky reflections, loud music, and killer montage visuals are for the viewer, not the character’s experience, and weak, fiery flashes poorly frame the child trauma, eerie tapping, and possessed levitation. Priests inexplicably intrude on the police interrogations and psychological evaluations as gun-toting cops are sent to handle the evil – because that’s going to turn out so well! Buzzing alarms, growling effects, zombie police, and strobe corridors problematic for sensitive viewers add to the supernatural extraneous as The Seventh Day finally dons the sacraments only to drop the actual exorcism for whooshing across the floor, jump scares, and bathtub ghosts. Yet more cinematic contrivances in the last twenty minutes hand the characters the hello Agatha the audience has known from the beginning, and there’s no devil lying to divide and conquer reverse twist on the twist or any deeper complex catharsis.
Despite a fast-tracked academy record hailing him as their finest, Vadhir Derbez (How to Be a Latin Lover) as Father Daniel Garcia is admittedly anxious about his new position and immediately admonished by Father Peter. If he can’t handle a day in the field seeking evil, how does Daniel expect to fight demons? Daniel can’t answer why he wants to be an exorcist, yet he contests every exercise rather than being open to any tips and experience possible just because the plot says our priests must be opposites. Wouldn’t you want to be on the same page against evil? Daniel can’t spot the devils in disguise, worries about trespassing at a crime scene, and can’t talk casually to people like even a regular priest should. He continually fails to see the bigger picture but changes his tune as The Seventh Day says, ready to do whatever Peter wants after a few scary words from a possessed child. Maybe viewers are meant to feel the disjointed jumping around as an in over his head whirlwind, but it’s terribly frustrating when we pick up critical things Daniel does not. Rather than any kind of self-awareness, his sullen approach and repeated mistakes become inadvertently humorous. There’s no character growth, realizations, or recognition because Daniel doesn’t suspect anything until the plot says he should. He falls for evil tricks and has the big twist pointed out to him in a montage, reciting helpful platitudes instead of the prayers and exorcism rites he’s supposed to know so well. When faced directly with demons and a house of horrors, the audience finds it tough to believe Daniel can handle any attack, much less knows what to do with evil once it’s released. The Seventh Day’s focus on his rookie point of view is quite simply the wrong one, and the finale setting up some kind of sequel for him as a badass hunter-killer priest out to save the possessed is unfortunately laughable.
Unorthodox Father Peter Costello is dismissive of these wet behind the ears priests and sends Daniel to get him coffee. He sings to the car radio, smokes, curses, and wears a funky patterned jacket rather than a clerical collar. Guy Pearce has a lot of exorcism exposition and Peter’s edgy fast talking accent doesn’t really give us much besides making him more harsh versus Daniel’s timid. However, he’s upfront about his past exorcism failures and grizzled attitude. For Peter, it’s about settling the score not the greater good, and he flings the possessed around – a commanding exorcist getting serious with the rites. Audiences know not to underestimate Guy Pearce’s kick-ass and The Seventh Day lacks whenever he’s off-screen. Unfortunately, Peter’s teaching methods are also total crap. He drives them all around town but sends Daniel in to chat with a demon alone while he reads a comic book in the waiting room. If this is such a serious case with a child at risk, why is Peter letting Daniel willy nilly learn on the fly? Such contrived actions break the viewer immersion, for it’s easy to tune out when we know there is a built-in answer in the script. Peter’s training exercises are easy and random. Audiences wonder why he isn’t just doing the dang exorcism. We have every reason to suspect why while the film ignores the inevitable, yet somehow Pearce almost makes The Seventh Day bemusing. He remains chill in the face of the preposterous, leaving sardonic clues even as Peter’s pushing Daniel so hard one moment only to act concerned for him in the next scene. Although Pearce has had a string of missteps in our rueful 2020s, coughDisturbingThePeacecough, I don’t mind his recent streak of making genre schlock. Guy Pearce has turned in enough excellent performances in quintessential, groundbreaking films, and I’m still going to watch everything he does, obvious cloak and disappointing dagger or not. Fortunately, there’s still a certain deliciousness when as always, Guy Pearce gives us what we want – if all too briefly when The Seventh Day should have been about Peter’s self-reflection and the burdens he carries. I’d eat that shit up if this had been a weekly silver fox, Father Peter, battling demons I can’t lie.
Poor Archbishop Stephen Lang (Avatar) doesn’t even get a name, and although he says the decisions aren’t up to him…he’s the one making the decisions? He also says he has hope in these desperate times but wonders if their new recruits can handle the increasing possessions before chastising Peter and Daniel for putting themselves in danger – when the Archbishop knows of Peter’s risky methods. Such precious few contradictory scenes give no indication on whether he knows what’s really afoot, and Keith David’s (Gamer) Father Louis is also unfortunately brief despite his great delivery and presence. In fact, the Archbishop spends more time telling us what a faithful and courageous man Father Louis was, and if both were going to be so underutilized, they could have been combined into one character. Even after the 1995 opening, The Seventh Day still feels older thanks to boob tube televisions and big old cars. Smog, dirty concrete, retro jailhouses, dark roller rinks, and empty corridors make for a downtrodden, anonymous cityscape, however, once we have a few opening aerial shots, we don’t need padding overhead views for every scene transition. Voiceover wisdoms on the evil preparations acting like this is some kind of demon heist get old fast when we could have seen characters speaking. However it is amusing to hear not so angelic kids with F-bombs and foul mouths to match the distorted smiles, demonic voices, creepy tongues, eating glass, and dislocating jaws. Ominous echoes and rotten fruits accent burning flesh, cemeteries, and haunted houses, but the out-of-place vignettes try to up the scary ante with unnecessary, typical horror shocks. The Seventh Day’s style is very generic with little pizzazz and arms-length shooting more interested in moving on to the next scene – via an overhead shot of driving across a bridge – rather than focusing on the characters at hand. One might think names like Daniel i.e. the lion’s den and Peter like the apostle cum first pope crucified upside down mean something, but The Seventh Day is surprisingly lacking in its ecclesiastics with no Legion Mark Chapter Five reference amid the demon army talk nor even a swine joke.
IMDb says The Seventh Day was written in ten days, and it shows. Rather than focusing on the scars of its elder priests, The Seventh Day deflates itself with a weak rookie element. Viewers are supposed to ignore any unreliable ambiguity until the film tells us we’re supposed to be shocked, but long time horror audiences won’t be surprised. While the premise is intriguing on paper, billing oneself as Training Day meets The Exorcist makes for a thin elevator pitch, and it’s easy to suspect the twist in The Seventh Day when the trailers all but confirm it. Oops.
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