There’s a reason The Exorcist was one of the most popular films of the 1970s; There are still plenty of people who believe that demonic possession exists, and for those who don’t, it’s still fun to see people levitating out of bed and throwing up pea soup. But hearing reports of possession in real life is an entirely different matter. A new Netflix docuseries from Mexico tells the story of three women who were either possessed by demons in their lives or faced them in another way.
MY ENCOUNTER WITH EVIL: TRANSMIT OR SKIP?
Opening shot: A close-up of a woman saying, “There is a war between good and evil.”
Essence: My Encounter with Evil is a four-part documentary series that examines how three women suffered demonic possession and how their friends and family managed to eradicate the demons that inhabited their loved ones.
Using interviews with victims, actual videos of exorcisms and extensive dramatic re-enactments, the three women and their families discuss their possession. The women’s stories intertwine throughout the series as we go back and forth between them.
We hear Jessica Urbina’s story through her and her mother Sully, who is a forensic psychologist and a great reader of tarot and other mysticism. Jessy’s childhood was difficult as she was raised as a single mother by Sully and was a lonely child without many friends. She’d seen people in mirrors even as a little girl in grade school, and when Jessy was a teenager, she was completely possessed.
Andrea Viridiana Rostro Olvera and her sister, Esther Aguilera Olvera, talk about the possession experience of their mother Concepción, who in the 1970s saw her sisters’ dolls light up with red eyes. After being visited by a demon, her brother, a local priest, told her that the demon had visited him before coming to her.
Florencia Macías, her daughters and her boyfriend Pablo move into an apartment, with the intention that the two have a child. But Florencia soon starts seeing a girl in the hallways of the apartment, and then her daughter Emma starts to sleepwalk and points to the same girl that Florencia sees. She soon becomes pregnant, but the horrors are just beginning.
What programs will this remind you of? Let’s just say these three incidents could easily have been three episodes of Evil AND leave it at that.
Our outlet: Your enjoyment of My Encounter with Evil (original title: My Encounter with Evil) really depends on how you view the subject of possession. If you’re a skeptic like us, wondering as we watch, somewhat ironically, why it seems like only Catholics are possessed, for example, you’re going to be squinting at this series. It’s taking these people’s claims of possession very seriously, even though there are psychological roots to all the behaviors these allegedly possessed people exhibit.
Yes, the filmmakers have psychologists and psychiatrists to explain how they view these phenomena, but these interviews are brief and don’t talk about the specific things these people claim to see or do. However, the people interviewed are more or less true believers, fully believing in the fact that they or their loved ones are full of demons rather than, you know, having serious mental illnesses that need treatment.
The format is a little confusing; rather than taking each woman’s case and dedicating an entire episode to it, the cases intertwine throughout the series. The first episode takes time to introduce us to each of the three women and their loved ones. But the last ten minutes have us running from Jessy to Coni and Florence, and things start to look chaotic.
Perhaps this is the idea, that the spectator should feel as uncomfortable as the subjects and their families. It’s also the idea that these cases must be scary, seeing the actors who play these possessed women screaming like animals and attacking people, or bending over in weird ways when the demon holds them. We even see people levitating. But it all seems silly to us, and the fact that these stories are played so seriously makes the series less scary than it sounds.
Sex and skin: We see the actors who play Florencia and Pablo having sex, under the covers, when a sleepwalker Emma surprises them.
Farewell shot: After seeing a recreation of Jessy bending over backwards and screaming, we see Sully, in his interview, say, “Okay, Jessica was possessed.”
sleeping star: We like the real Florence, perhaps because it feels a little more down to earth and down to earth than some of the other people interviewed. She also wears braces, and we always find adults who wear braces on their well-wishers.
Most of the Pilot-y line: As much as we hate dramatic recreations in documentaries, the feature films shown here, complete with dialogue, make sense. Dramatizing the accounts not only gives the show a much-needed visual element, it also allows the witness accounts to unfold exactly as they describe. It doesn’t mean they aren’t overexcited at times.
Our call: SKIP THIS. Unless you’re really into demons and possessions, My Encounter with Evil probably won’t have the desired impact on you, mainly because it doesn’t treat the subject with enough skepticism to have any kind of legitimacy.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting, and technology, but he’s not kidding himself: he’s a couch potato. His writings have been published in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, vanityfair.comFast Company, and elsewhere.