For a lesson on just how crass and vulgar American films can get, try a double feature of The Exorcism Of Emily Rose and the German drama Requiem. Both films are based on the most famous demon-possession case on record, and they hinge to varying degrees on the "is she or isn't she?" question, but their approach to the material contrasts so dramatically that it's hard to remember that they're telling the same story. A jarring mix of flash-cut shocks and insipid courtroom drama, Emily Rose frames the case as the Scopes Monkey Trial revisited, a stark example of science failing to account for religious phenomena. Though its heroine's mysterious seizures and blackouts are terrifying in the way they undermine her quest for self-determination, Requiem isn't a horror movie so much as a thwarted coming-of-age story, like Carrie without the bloody reckoning.
Meanwhile, in Requiem, Sandra Hüller gives a committed, mesmerizing performance that recalls Emily Watson in Breaking The Waves. Her character, a young woman from a deeply religious background, yearns to go to college. Over the objections of her forbidding mother (Imogen Kogge), who worries that her crippling "spells" will resurface, Hüller's gently sympathetic father (Burghart Klaussner) encourages her to follow her ambitions, in spite of his concerns about her health. Though it takes the awkward Hüller some time to acclimate to college life, she forges a strong friendship with former classmate Anna Blomeier, and even finds a boyfriend. Yet old demons literally resurface when she begins to experience frightening supernatural spells, linked to an inner repulsion with religious artifacts. After she consults her priest and others within the church, they determine that she's a candidate for exorcism.
Director Hans-Christian Schmid doesn't come to any hard conclusions about Hüller's malady, beyond the obvious suggestion that they may be a psychosomatic symptom of her upbringing. Unlike Emily Rose, Requiem chooses to leave the demon-possession angle ambiguous while focusing on the issue of choice and how much control its heroine has over her life. While Schmid's naturalistic style seems overly drab and conventional at times, his refusal to exploit the story's supernatural elements grants this young woman complexity and dignity. By the beautiful conclusion, it's clear that the devil may be inside her or he may not, but she has some say over her possession.