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Review: Exorcism thriller ‘The Seventh Day’ is too ponderous to raise a decent scare

Vadhir Derbez as a beat-up priest in the movie "The Seventh Day."
Vadhir Derbez in the movie “The Seventh Day.”
(Vertical Entertainment)

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

The plot of the supernatural thriller “The Seventh Day” combines elements of “The Exorcist” and “Training Day,” following a grizzled evil-fighting priest and his nervous new recruit. That premise is goofy enough to be fun but, as executed by writer-director Justin P. Lange, the movie is too ponderous and dry — neither endearingly trashy nor effectively scary.

Vadhir Derbez plays Father Daniel Garcia, a young priest with a gift for sensing evil — a power that manifests as strong impressions of the terrible things that happened around certain people and places. Guy Pearce plays Father Peter Costello, a tough-talking exorcist who had a traumatic encounter with a demon in his early years and has since developed a reputation as a cynical iconoclast.

The story mostly plays out over a single day in New Orleans, as a skeptical Costello schools Garcia on the realities of the demon-purging business. They roam from one satanic hot spot to another, with the veteran showing the rookie things he never learned in seminary.

Throughout, the partners investigate the case of a boy who murdered his family, looking for proof the kid was possessed. As they get closer to the truth, the danger increases, before Lange springs a big twist in the third act.

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Again, on paper, all this sounds relatively exciting. And modern horror fans might be excited to see Lange’s name in the credits, given that his previous film, “The Dark,” was a thoughtful and at times beautiful spin on the zombie thriller. The artistry evident in “The Dark” also appears intermittently in “The Seventh Day,” particularly in the sequence where Garcia roams through the house where the murders occurred, experiencing the killer’s trauma psychically.

But the one big knock against “The Dark” was that it was slow-paced, sometimes to the point of feeling listless; and in “The Seventh Day,” this is a bigger problem. Lange’s new film is more plot-driven and gimmicky, yet it still plods forward with a minimal sense of urgency. A movie like this needs to be more in-your-face. Instead, its intensity level rarely rises above a mutter.

'The Seventh Day'

Rated: R, for violent content, disturbing images and some language

Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

Playing: Starts March 26, Vineland Drive-in, City of Industry; Mission Tiki Drive-in, Montclair; and in limited release where theaters are open; also on VOD


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