If you think you know what it’s like to have a bad first day at your new job, wait until you see what Father Daniel has to deal with in The Seventh Day. The new exorcism thriller from writer/director Justin P. Lange sees rookie priest Daniel (Vadhir Derbez) teamed up with the seasoned pro Father Peter (Guy Pearce) on his first day, and it’s going to be one that he’ll never forget. Mixing the subject matter of The Exorcist with the structure of Training Day is a pretty intriguing starting place for a movie, but Lange unfortunately struggles at times to make the most out of these unconventional ingredients.
The film opens up with a flashback to a younger Peter during a deeply disturbing exorcism attempt on a young boy, as Peter is assisting his mentor Father Louis (Keith David). It’s a moment that is going to stick with Peter forever, and Pearce does a good job in portraying the haunted, wounded spirit of a man who had to experience this horrific event so many years ago. We pick the story up decades later in the present day, and the roles have reversed as Peter is now the mentor to young protege Daniel, although Peter doesn’t believe his new mentee is up to the task at hand.
At first, we believe he might just be right, as Daniel struggles to manage through some of the bizarre street level exorcism antics that the two get up to. We learn from their superior, played by Stephen Lang, that demonic possessions are running rampant through the city, getting worse by the day, and the priesthood is running low on fighters to try and stomp out this invasion. Thus, Peter and Daniel are on the hunt for whatever entities they can snuff out. It’s a strange setup for a film, and one that Lange never quite manages to figure out the right tone for, as the movie goes in a very heavy, brooding direction that doesn’t connect with the silliness of the premise, nor the charismatic bad boy persona that Pearce is putting into his role.
Pearce seems to be relishing this “old veteran who doesn’t play by the rules” type of part, and he does a lot of the legwork to make the film pop where it could have sunk down further. Derbez, in comparison, struggles to keep up, and this tarnishes the film as he serves as our surrogate through which we’re introduced to this world. He handles himself okay enough in the opening scenes when we’re supposed to believe that he’s a naive, undertrained young recruit in over his head, but the further the day goes on and the more he is put on this arc towards becoming a full-fledged warrior, the more the actor caves under the weight that the movie needs him to carry.
There is certainly an interesting, oddly entertaining movie to be found somewhere in The Seventh Day. At only 87 minutes, it’s tough to wonder if more time spent with the characters would have helped to flesh things out better, or if it would have made the movie more of a slog to get through. It’s not a dull experience by any means, but there’s never enough grounding in the reality of this world or the emotional arcs of the characters for us to buy the places that it goes narratively. Those places, for what it’s worth, are simultaneously very bizarre and also extremely predictable. All in all, this isn’t the kind of movie that you’ll necessarily regret watching or find torturous to sit through, yet it also isn’t one that you’re likely to remember long after the credits roll.
The Seventh Day is available in select theaters and on demand on March 26th