(16/11/06) – Deserved winner of the Best Actress awards at both the Berlin Film Festival and the National German Film Prizes, the Lolas, the exorcism drama Requiem is indeed dominated by a performance that will unlikely be equalled this year for sheer force, introspection and horror. Stage actress Sandra Hüller makes her feature film debut as a 21-year-old Catholic university student who is visited by demons, something which director Hans-Christian Schmid and Hüller show us with a sense of palpable reality and without any special effects. The story is based on the same true events that inspired the recent Hollywood horror yarn The Exorcism of Emily Rose, but both films could not be more different.

In a quiet German town in the 1970s Michaela (Hüller) thinks she will finally be able to break free from her devoutly Catholic mother (Imogen Kogge, the nasty doctor from Barfuss/Barefoot) and her subservient father (Burghart Klaußner, the father of Daniel Brühl’s character in Good Bye Lenin!), when she gets permission to study Education at a university in another town. Since she was a child, she has suffered from epilepsy and a variety of doctors have tried to help her, without success. When in a desperate fit of anger and frustration she flushes her medication down the sink, things start to go badly wrong and Michaela claims she hears voices that tell her not to touch the rosary and the cross. An exorcism is the only way out according to a priest from a nearby village and her pious mother willingly agrees.

Director Hans-Christian Schmid (Lichter/Distant Lights) takes a naturalistic approach to the harrowing story while evoking a distinctly 1970s style in production design and cinematography. The naturalistic performances (led by Hüller but aided by Klaußner and Kogge as her parents, and Nicholas Reinke as her boyfriend) are right at home in this almost documentary-like story, which foregoes cheap thrills for slowly but steadily built-up dramatic tension and gravitas. The film’s finale is spine chilling and only the intelligent screenplay, the cured direction and the impeccable acting are to blame. Here is a horror story that knows where the truly scary resides: in real life.

Boyd van Hoeij is the editor of the website European-films.net (see links). Requiem is out in the UK tomorrow, 17 November.