Review: BEYOND THE HILLS Goes Way Beyond Being Just Another Movie About Exorcism

Dustin Chang, Contributing Writer
Christian Mungiu, the leading figure of Romanian New Wave, strikes again with Beyond the Hills. Just like his Palme d'Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, which elevated a rather unpleasant subject matter (illegal abortion) into a dizzying, tension-filled masterpiece, here he manages to make something greater out of an exorcism-gone-horribly-wrong story based on a true event. Mungiu again proves to be a gifted storyteller and a great tension builder. He is also masterful at presenting nuanced human interactions.

The film takes place in a small remote Romanian monastery in the hills. A young nun named Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) reunites with her childhood friend Alina (Cristina Flutur) from their orphanage days after a long separation. Alina, emotionally stunted of the two, having been living in Germany alone for a long time, is determined to reclaim her long time love. But Voichita's world is now all about God and prayers, living without worldly attachment. Indeed, affectionately calling the head priest and Mother Superior papa and mama, she calls the electricity-less orthodox monastery her true home now.

After throwing an emotional tantrum and trying to throw herself into a well, Alina spends a night at a crowded local hospital. If she can't run away with Voichita, then she will join in. The priest insists on telling her that the monastic life is not fit for a person with human desires and monetary attachment, not noticing the seriousness of the girl's obsessive love for her best friend. Things escalate to a point where the esteemed priest is pressured to perform a sort of exorcism to rid the evil spirit from hysterical Alina, followed by the grisly aftermath. These nuns and the priest are not bad people and have the best of intentions in their hearts. But with the old rules they follow and their conduct for 'curing' the emotionally disturbed, they are still stuck in the Middle Ages. 

In Mungiu's films, Romania is a country full of contradictions where the past and the present precariously co-exist side by side. None are more pronounceable than one scene at the hospital where unsympathetic, overworked staff collide with the priest and nuns. In another scene, two arresting officers make small talk about a boy stabbing his mother to death in the presence of hushed nuns in a paddy wagon on the way to the police station. 

With great performances all around, Beyond the Hills is an emotionally exhausting experience. Even with a running time of 2 1/2 hours, the film succeeds in holding your attention from beginning to end with unrelenting tension. Stratan and Flutur deservedly shared the Best Actress honors for their portrayals, and Mungiu took home Best Screenplay award at last year's Cannes film festival.


Beyond the Hills has a limited release in theaters on March 8 and VOD on March 14. Please visit Sundance Selects website for more info.

Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musing and opinions on the world can be found at www.dustinchang.com.
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