Browse Netflix’s horror catalogue and you’ll find no shortage of demonic possession movies. The Crucifixion, Veronica, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Constantine, Malicious – these are just a handful of the devilish subgenre to turn up on the streaming platform. Now Mexican director Diego Cohen’s Mark of the Devil is available for Netflix subscribers. Cohen’s limited directorial output includes the pretty dreadful, Romina. But Mark of the Devil’s promotional material promises what hopes to be a unique twist on a now very familiar story.
Several years ago, a Mexican priest’s exorcism ends in the death of a young boy in a small village. But when the priest discovers that the boy isn’t dead, he leaves his still possessed body in a ravine. Unbeknownst to the priest, he also misses an old book hidden under the boy’s bed. In the present day, a philologist brings home an ancient text to research. Though she’s not aware, it’s the same book connected to the past exorcism. Her teen daughters, Camila and Fernanda, play around with the book that bares remarkable similarity to the fictional, Necronomicon. Soon thereafter, Camila succumbs to demonic possession. A desperate Fernanda turns to an addicted priest and his colleague, who also happens to be possessed by a demon.
Mark of the Devil Squanders Any Potential with Derivative Story
Director Diego Cohen opens Mark of the Devil with an impressive camera shot and much promise. Specifically, Cohen tracks across a beautiful Mexican landscape before dropping you into a small shack. Though we’ve seen plenty of exorcism scenes in the past, Mark of the Devil still injects its opening scene with some frights. It’s a promise of things to come in the Mexican chiller. Sadly, it’s a promise that goes unfulfilled. From that point onward, Mark of the Devil is just a scattershot of ideas you’ve seen in a dozen or so demonic possession movies. In fact, the only thing this horror movie doesn’t possess is an original idea.
It’s a promise of things to come in the Mexican chiller. Sadly, it’s a promise that goes unfulfilled.
Following its intriguing prologue, Mark of the Devil traipses from expected story point to story point. Teens fool around with the occult prompting the expected catastrophic results. Next Cohen treats us to the standard ‘demonic voice’ and other devilish tricks we’ve watched in better movies. There’s medical tests that … surprise … find nothing wrong. And our priest is, as expected, troubled. Perhaps the only novel element to Mark of the Devil is the priest’s colleague – Karl, a man possessed by a demon himself. In fact, Karl was the possessed boy seen earlier in the movie. Nonetheless, the idea of ‘evil’ fighting ‘evil’ isn’t really new either. Cohen just mixes it in with the rest of his borrowed story bits. Throughout its runtime, Mark of the Devil feels familiar and, as a result, boring.
Lovecraftian Name-Dropping in Name Only
Occasionally, Mark of the Devil boasts some disturbing imagery. Yet it’s too few and far between. Moreover, Cohen fails to embed any of these images in a consistent tone or atmosphere. This leaves the movie feeling pretty disconnected – the odd scary sight stitched into a visually bland movie. And while Mark of the Devil name-drops some HP Lovecraft, horror fans shouldn’t expect any Lovecraftian touches in the movie. There’s no real attempt at building mythology. By and large, the movie runs along on what feels like auto-pilot.
Nothing about the movie feels cinematic.
If there’s any part of Mark of the Devil that holds potential interest, it’s Karl’s demonic tendencies. Unfortunately, Cohen just doesn’t know how to wring anything interesting out of this story bit. This is in part a problem of style. Cohen struggles to engineer effective mood or scares. And the few scenes of demonic carnage feel like something you might see in an episode of Supernatural. Nothing about the movie feels cinematic. Instead of generating suspense or edge-of-your-seat thrill, Mark of the Devil may have you pausing to see much time is left in the movie. At times, one wonders if Cohen intended his movie to be more tongue-in-cheek. Arguably, it’s an approach that might have worked better with the material. As it stand, Mark of the Devil plays it serious and disappoints.
Mark of the Devil a Flat Demonic Thriller
Despite a promising start and an interesting premise, Mark of the Devil is wholly unremarkable. Outside of the first 10 minutes or so of this Mexican horror entry, nothing about the movie works. Neither original nor scary Mark of the Devil feels like a highlight reel of better demonic possession movies, minus the highlights. Even the stunning opening visuals give way to middle-of-the-road production values. Perhaps if Cohen had shifted tones to a more over-the-top production, Mark of the Devil might have been more entertaining. As it stands, the deadly serious tone feels at odds with the movie’s story, which all but begged for a more tongue-in-cheek approach.