Unauthorized Exorcisms: The Terrifying Tragedy of ‘Godless: The Eastfield Exorcism’

Warning: This article contains movie spoilers.

“You’re like one of those brainwashed missionaries,” Georgia Eyers’ character Lara fumes to her husband Ron (Dan Ewing). Her remark cuts deep into Ron’s faith. But he never wavers. He doubles down on his delusions, even if they harm those he loves. The conversation, during which Lara convulses and seemingly switches personalities, brings up questions about blind religion, science, and mental health. Throughout Godless: The Eastfield Exorcism, director Nick Kozakis confronts extremism and how it so easily spreads like a contagion.

Set in 1994, the film takes place in Eastfield, Australia and follows Lara and Ron as they contend with Lara’s ailing mental health and Ron’s belief that it’s a spiritual matter. Lara has been found more than once dancing naked on the front lawn. She’s been hallucinating, mostly images of a horned beast with scaly, fiery-red skin. While Ron believes she’s possessed by demons, Dr. Walsh (Eliza Matengu) diagnoses Lara with hypomania and paranoid schizophrenia. Ron presses the doctor to sign off on a psychiatrist statement that will allow Father Argento to perform an exorcism. Still, Walsh refuses, as she firmly states the issue is a medical one. “They want to scare you to sell more pills,” seethes Ron in one of several sessions.

Out of options, Ron turns to a member of the congregation named Barbara (Rosie Traynor), who suggests Daniel James King (Tim Pocock) be summoned. He’s known for his extreme approach, physical and psychological torture all in the name of God. When he arrives, he orders Ron to restrain “it,” as he refers to a “possessed” Lara, also demanding no feeding and no bathing during the proceedings. “We need to keep you safe,” consoles Ron, as he ties Lara’s hands with rope. She momentarily breaks free – but Daniel snatches her in his veiny arms and drags her out to a nearby garage. There, he binds Lara to a chair, while declaring he “will break you all.” All in this case refers to what he believes to be several demons inside her body

“Lara’s not just possessed; she’s infested,” he says.

Throughout the film, Daniel whips Lara with a leatherbound Bible, deprives her of food, and emotionally traumatizes her through claims she is pure evil. After escaping for a brief period, Ron discovers his wife twirling alone in a field – here the audience witnesses a vision she has about the same horned beast and a burning inverse cross. “I just hate seeing you suffer,” Ron says, taking her into his arms. He then returns her to the garage, and the grueling torture continues. What happens next is most agonizing. She’s eventually removed from the chair, and Daniel and his parishioners hold her down and douse her with water, in an almost water-boarding exercise. Things quickly escalate as the congregation places hands on her body to push out the demons. Daniel grabs her neck before sliding his hands to her jawline and rips it open, effectively killing her. It’s one of the year’s most shocking and uncomfortable scenes that is nothing short of devastating.

What makes Godless such an effective chiller is how grounded it is. It’s unlike most exorcism films. It’s far removed from the polished Hollywood fare. Instead, it’s gritty and raw, rooted in authentic storytelling around religious fanaticism and one woman’s tragic death. It also helps that it draws inspiration from real-life exorcisms. Eerily enough, a woman named Joan Vollmer died under similar circumstances. In 1993, her husband Ralph and three others – David Klingner, Leanne Merlyn Reichenbach, and Matthew Paul Nuske – were put on trial for Joan’s death. According to a newspaper report, Joan had been tied to a chair and “bound by stockings.” Dr. Stanley Pilbeam conducted an autopsy and believed it was “most likely that she died from a cardiac arrest caused by compression to the neck.” But he wasn’t totally certain of this and so the court ruled there wasn’t sufficient evidence to indicate the four in question contributed directly to Joan’s death. When they walked free, Ralph praised the ruling, stating that “the magistrate’s finding was the will of God.” How sickening.

But this case isn’t the only one from which inspiration is drawn. In the film’s end credits, Kozakis lists several names of people who were killed during unauthorized exorcisms. One of those is Janet Moses, on whom Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses is based, as well as countless other names like E’Dena Hines of New York City and Israa Zourob of Palestine. The list also includes an infant and a three-year-old. Senseless deaths that could have been avoided.

Godless: The Eastfield Exorcism is not for the faint of heart. Its grim portrayal of exorcisms makes it one of the year’s best horror films – relentlessly infuriating, disheartening, and sad. With a script written by Alexander Angliss-Wilson, Nick Kozakis’ film ventures deep into the bowels of real life in a way that weighs on your soul. “While I was studying and researching exorcisms, I realized how brutal and horrifying the real ones are, and what really happens in most cases. That knowledge was too hard to shake and overlook,” Kozakis told Fangoria.

Such a brutal reality leaves you deathly cold, unable to shake the ending. From the opening scene, in which the viewer witnesses zealots participating in a revival, to the final title card, Godless arrests the senses and leaves nothing but darkness in its wake. Where even films like The Exorcist deliver a heightened reality through head-spinning and green pea-soup vomit, Godless swaps out grandiose for something real and tangible. Like it could actually happen. That’s the real horror. This can and does happen – and it’s probably happening as I type this.

It’s chilling just to think about.

Godless: The Eastfield Exorcism is now streaming on Tubi.

Godless Eastfield Exorcism movie

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