Mark of the Devil -review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: When a teacher takes an ancient manuscript home to study over the weekend, her daughters get interested in it and unleash an ancient spirit that ends up possessing one of them.

Is it any good?: No. It is terrible. Mercifully it is short. Nonetheless, it is terrible. It starts promisingly but quickly descends into farce and nonsense. With an incomprehensible story and no central premise, Mark of the Devil or La Marca del Demonio, to give it its original Mexican title, is utter garbage.

Spoiler territory: A priest is performing an exorcism on a young boy. The boy dies during the exorcism. The family do not want to bury the body so the priest takes the boy and throws it down a hill off of the road whilst driving away. The book he used for the exorcism is left under the bed.

Thirty years later, a high school teacher, Cecilia de la Cueva (Lumi Cavazos), is told about the book. She decides to take it home so as she can take a look at it over the weekend. One of her daughters, Camila (Arantza Ruiz), wants to go out with her boyfriend, Diego (Oliver Nava). Cecilla tells that the family are all having dinner together and that she can meet him afterwards.

Camila asks if she can invite Diego. Her mother tells her that is okay. Returning home from work, Cecilla asks her husband, Luis Miranda (Omar Fierra), if dinner is ready. He says it is. Cecilia goes to put away the book and bumps into their other daughter, Fernanda (Nicolasa Ortíz Monasterio). Fernanda is curious about the book but Cecilla tells her to leave it alone.

Fernanda finds the book and interrupts her amorous sister and Diego, to tell her about the book her mother brought home. Diego suggests they read the book. He looks at the book but says he cannot read it because it is in Latin. Camila takes the book from him and starts reading. The window shutters fly open, freaking the three young adults out. They leave the book.

A family are waiting for an exorcist. A man dressed in black, Karl (Eivaut Rischen), turns up at the house. The woman who meets him greets him as a priest. He tells her he is not a priest. He asks where the woman is. He is there for the mother of the household. He goes into the room the old woman is in and exorcises the demon in her. The family pay him.

Karl buys heroin with the money and takes it to the priest who raised him, Tomas (Eduardo Noriega). Tomas is the town priest and a heroin addict. Camila, Fernanda and Diego go out clubbing. Camila, even though she is only drinking water, feels ill so Fernanda takes her to the bathroom. A girl in the queue argues with Fernanda. Camila suddenly springs to life and slams the girl against the wall.

Back home, Camila sleeps right through Sunday. Her father wakes her on Monday. Camila is utterly confused. She goes to the bathroom and a pendant she is wearing is fused to her body. She bleeds as she peels it off and then begins to gag, her eyes going totally black. She staggers out of the bathroom and collapses.

Her parents take her to the doctor (Enrique Singer). The doctor tells them it is stress and she needs to rest. Fernanda feels there is something very wrong with her sister. She thinks it might be something to do with the old book. Karl is somehow connected to the book and shows signs of demonic possession.

He remembers going to the church as a young boy. He was the boy that had been flung off the roadside, thought dead by the priest. As a young boy (Diego Escalona Zaragoza), he had killed the priest. Tomas had found him in the church, with the old priest who had initially exorcised Karl, nailed to a crucifix and the lower half of his body missing.

An increasingly worried Fernanda searches for an exorcist online. She goes to see Tomas the next day. He does not take her seriously until she tells him about the book. Tomas goes with Fernanda to see Camila. Tomas talks to Camila and the demon comes out in front of him, Diego and Fernanda. Before anything else can happen, Luis and Cecilla return home. The demon retreats into Camila.

The awaking of the demon impacts on Karl. His demon seems to be fighting to get out as well. Tomas tries to explain the dangers of the book to Cecilla. She thinks he is silly as she is a woman of science and does not believe in demons. Tomas tells Karl about the book. He took a picture of it and shows him. Karl remembers the book from his own exorcism. He wants to know where the book is but Tomas wants heroin. Karl attacks Tomas and chokes him unconscious.

Camila is taken for more test by her parents. There is nothing that can be found wrong with her and the doctor repeats that he feels it must be stress. Fernanda wants to go back to the priest. Tomas searches desperately for a fix. Fernanda reads from a book, Necronomicon – book of the dead, and the reading affects Camila.

Tomas finds Karl in the street. He takes him to Camila. Karl and Camila face one another and the demons come out. They begin to fight. Their parents return home. Tomas and Fernanda try to stop them from going into the house but they ignore them and rush in. Karl tries to warn them. Fernanda takes Camila to her bedroom and lies down next to her. Tomas tries to explain to the parents that Camila is possessed by an ancient demon. Camila wakes up and attacks Karl. Cecilia tries to stop her daughter and gets flung across the room and killed. The demon retreats again. Fernanda emerges and bashes her father’s head into a door killing him. She is also possessed.

She grabs Tomas and throws him into Karl. Diego turns up to visit and is killed. Karl is back on his feet and tackles the possessed Fernanda and Camila. Tomas knocks Camila off of him and runs. Fernanda goes after him. Karl slams Camila into a wall and absorbs the demon out of her into himself. He comes after Fernanda and does the same. He tells Tomas to kill him. Tomas shoots him in the head.

The girls leave the town. Tomas cleans up Karl, wraps him in a sheet and leaves him in a cave. Karl returns a day later. Tomas had been waiting for him. The end.

Mark of the Devil is awful. It is entirely down to the story and a little bit of overacting from Rischen as Karl. Mostly it is the awful, incoherent story. As I always freely admit, I do not expect high concept from a horror film. Basic competency would be nice though. The film opens with some nice visuals and has the bluish, cold tinge that is perfect for horror of this sort. The actors are mostly competent and engaging enough.

It is just the damn story. It is literally explained in a couple of lines of exposition ten minutes from the end and still makes no sense and does not explain the preceding seventy minutes. Why Noriega’s priest was a heroin addict is anybody’s guess as it did not add to the story at all and served no purpose other than to allow the actor to audition for drug addict roles in other shows.

The music, though a little overwhelming, is good for the premise and the cast looks very natural, with Ruiz and Monasterio working really well as the sisters. It is just the story that totally wrecks this film. Written by Ruben Escalante Mendez, the film has no natural build-up, with symbolism and artefacts thrown in desperately to inject some sense into proceedings.

Directed by Diego Cohen, the film does have some good editorial flourishes. Unfortunately, the actors are left to flounder, at times seeming to be in different films. At eighty-two minutes long, Mark of the Devil is not a long film but it does feel long. Its is not the worse film or horror I have seen on Netflix but it does promise far less than it delivers. Scoring a paltry three point four on IMDB, Mark of the Devil is not going to be on anybody’s favourite horror films list. Avoid.

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