At least as far as evil is concerned, is this one a kind of secular Exorcist? (Say that three times fast. Or maybe Three Hail Marys instead.) Upsidedown Cross leads you down the garden path, but then again, we know from Revelation that the devil deceives.
The first 45 minutes of this is a lurid, “Satanic panic” drug film: dour, captivating and unique.
Nadine, a girl deeply entrenched in prostitution, is also trying to kick heroin – the horse that kicks hardest. She’s been down the road before and seeks solace at her mother’s house. Her mom Delilah, is a god-fearing tough love type who immediately enlists the help of a preacher man, as she mistakes her daughter’s withdrawal symptoms for demonic possession.
This half of the film is darkly quiet and tightly framed; the gaze of pretty lead Erin Russ a look straight out of Italian horror. Nadine keeps repeating she’s sick and just wants to lie down and rest. Mom insists she’s a good-for-nothing and should go out and get a job.
The second half, upon introduction of the preacher, is talky and tense, a compelling showdown between the femme fatale and the man of the cloth.
For reasons unexplained (likely because of cool-sounding references to trampling serpents), the exorcist is quoting from Jesus’ message to the 70 disciples, a passage not only irrelevant to the proceedings, but also not used in any exorcism; you won’t find in-depth biblical study on the Really Awful Movies website to be sure, but the passage quoted from Luke refers to spreading the message to the Israelites and warns his emissaries that they’re lambs sent among wolves (and thus are unlikely to be warmly received). This may seem like a bit of a diversion, but a devilish out-of-context scriptural cherry-picking is going to lead to critical nit picking if it’s a cornerstone of the film.
And while we’re on the subject, since Delilah is the infamous temptress from the Pentatuch, shouldn’t that be the protagonist’s name rather than that of the mother?
At the end of the day, Upsidedown Cross is still mostly successful.
For starters, it looks incredible. And David Yow, the one-time lead singer of noise-rock band The Jesus Lizard, steals the show as the batty preacher. His lengthy convoluted monologues are a joy to behold. Erin Russ offers an incredibly brave performance. The reverb drums and banjo soundtrack (not together) is off-the-charts cool. The denouement is startling, if a bit predictable. Its restraint in the age of Saw is admirable.
To be truly transgressive though, it’d be far more interesting to see a horror film with Islam at its center, as the ground here seems to have been covered enough. Still, if it’s one thing good horror is good at, it’s reinventing the wheel.
*** (out of 5)