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Home | Film Review: The Occultist (2009)

Film Review: The Occultist (2009)


When a group of med students go to take their final exams, they find themselves subjects of a twisted and bloody Satanic ritual led by their professor. It’s up to two of them to save all.


In these austere times it is admirable for a film to be produced for a relatively small budget. I don’t meant the micro-budget films such as Everyone Must Die which are made for less than the price of an average second hand car, but films that have a reasonable amount to play with around the $250,000 to $500,000 mark. Open Water (2003) was apparently made for something in the region of $130,000 and more recently Kill List (2011) was estimated at under $500,000. So this shows that good, scary and suspenseful films can be made without a perceived big budget.

Therefore when I approached The Occultist (2009), formerly known as The Ritual, I expected good things from the $250,000 Sterling Entertainment sent the way of director Novin Shakuba. A story involving Satanic rituals, a motley group of students, a mysterious European doctor mixed with some gore for good measure. A recipe for a good film I thought. How wrong I was.

The Occultist opens with a credit sequence featuring graphics and music that appears to have been lifted directly from a 1970’s television thriller, and a poor one at that. The sound and picture quality is so invasive to the senses as to be unpleasant and the film never quite recovers from these troubled and unimpressive beginnings. Following a few preliminaries, involving what appears to be the severed hands and feet from some clothes store mannequins, we see a small classroom in a made up university populated with several cliché ridden students.

We have the player, the quiet studious type, who happens to be a virgin but more of that later, and a handful of busty young ladies dressed in low cut tops. As they chat their teacher Dr Shiva (Ursula Vari) enters with the aforementioned mysterious European Doctor Szandor (Domiziano Arcangeli). Dr Shiva proceeds to explain to the class that their final exam will take place this evening following a lecture from Szandor, which will be based around the the links between medicine and the occult. When she announces that this will all take place at her own home there are ripples of surprise and curiosity from the students. She quells this by declaring that she will be hosting a small party following the exam as, coincidentally, it is All Hallow’s Eve.

When the teachers leave the students argue about whether there is enough time left to study and what they should do next. The two teaching assistants who have been lurking at the back of the room warn the rest of the class not to miss the exam and leave, prompting the rest of the group to pair off and go their separate ways. For no previously established motive the killing now begins.

Initially let me tell you what The Occultist is not. It is not scary, gory, funny, sexy or creepy in any way at all. The random killings when they occur are unconvincing and you can actually see the blood being pumped from someone’s wound at one point. As I stated earlier the body parts are clearly from mannequins and are poorly disguised, and there is nothing here that even the most squeamish of films fans will find offensive. Strangely the live action is cut with scenes from actual medical procedures but the difference in the film is evident and as such adds nothing to the story or the film itself except further confusion. It is as if the director has attempted to pay tribute to the exploitation films of the 1970’s and it just doesn’t work. There are hints towards sex and eroticism, and even a flavour of lesbianism, but these are not followed through and had they been may at least have brought a little colour and perhaps humour to the production.

The performances from the cast are equally poor. Each one of them struggles with the leaden script and all appear uncomfortable when asked to move and talk at the same time. I am sure that on at least one occasion I saw and actor look at the camera. Domiziano Arcangeli is a veteran of more than 100 films but here he brings nothing menacing or shadowy to the role of a Satan worshipping surgeon and struggles throughout the film with his accent. He also seems to suffer from a strangely shiny head and curious facial expressions, and baulks at the sight of blood on more than one occasion. Ursula Vari spends the majority of the film shouting her lines and never convinces as the leader of the group. There is even the age old cliché of it needing to be a virgin for the final sacrifice and I am giving nothing away in saying this does not go to plan.

Overall The Occultist is a poor film. There is nothing here of interest and given it’s reasonable budget this can only be judged as a disappointment. In truth it is hard to see where the money has been spent and I’m afraid I could not find one redeeming quality or reason with which to recommend this film.

The Occultist (2009)

One comment

  1. Alexander Ross

    This is not very fair, honestly!
    I think that blaming budgets issues in such obvious little production made with absolutely no redeeming qualities and produced with even less attention (where did they even shoot this movie?) while the editing is clearly using the same shot or even the same scene more than once in order to “make for screen time”, then lash down on the actors like that, for me here, especially, feels truly too ‘simple” and, frankly, in bad taste and bad faith!
    I don’t know them personally, and, the only one i could ever know, or have seen, it is obviously Domiziano Arcangeli, whom i saw in very different movies playing always with excellent devotion, many different characters and some very convincingly!
    He may have a light accent, since i am not sure i heard it at all, in a couple of pictures, i guess, maybe he was asked to “make one” for this character, and try to bring up something from the flatline that the script clearly immediately shows? Anyway, i think it’s truly ludicrous to lash out on him, when, he’s at least the only one of the all movie at least bringing some “presence” and more realistic feel to what appears to be mostly some depressing nonsense. His glare is always tormented, and, personally i found the shiny head and such, more like a struggle of the actor, seriously determined to convey some state of “feverish” and sickening condition, to a character that doesn’t even have a main reason to be, per se, since it could have been a lot different if merely written a little better, but, as it was conceived and filmed, i am even surprised if anything, the actor had taken on such nonsense! If anything!
    Without even wanting to appear like a fan of Mr. Arcangeli, which i am not, i must say, after watching this movie, and, reading this review, that i felt almost compelled to argue your review and its main reason,s, maybe just for the sake of fairness, i don’t know..
    But here others the things i’d point out! And mainly the lack of ideas, the unprofessional quality of the realization, and, an altogether rushed and technical poor feel to the movie to a point to be leaving someone in disbelief!
    Again, after watching such unforgiving, shabby, plain mess, it would be ok to talk or write of the actors, using them like an easy target to question! Most of all, I feel bad for them since i could never believe this movie had the budget you stated (production’s companies do very often list fake budgets to “sell” the product and its marketing value) and in any case i don’t see how the cast should be even called in as partially responsible, for finding themselves in such a fluke, written and staged with way less than a minimal level of acceptable professionalism! Having done lots of photography i can tell you that when the cinematography is non existent or just fully flat or artificial to the point of becoming over exposed, how could any actor not be looking almost devastated?
    And they probably were. But, if anybody i’d call in for such matters, the producers, writers and creators of this turkey! They are just trying to make us believe something that could be even nothing at all, as far as i am concerned, and, hardly believable ever, for its poor and incredibly lame script. I was listening to the protagonist’s lines, and, going like, why even making such films, without mere foundations, or even a reason, apparently?


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