A scene from “Clandestine,” set in Machias. Photos by Resurgam Productions

Horror movies love the devil. Since “The Exorcist” splattered its way across the world’s movie screens in 1973, no multiplex has been safe from that possession-happy trickster and his minions, whose favorite hobby is taking over otherwise innocent mortals, tempting the faithful and maybe spinning a few heads all the way around. Just this past year, we’ve seen big screen exorcism thrillers like “The Pope’s Exorcist” and even a decades-later direct “Exorcist” sequel in “The Exorcist: Believer,” with originally bedeviled mother and daughter Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair popping in for one more go-around with the evil one.

But while “The Exorcist” remains a chilling, viscerally unnerving exercise in demonic horror, many imitators have lost the plot about what makes that tale of a young girl possessed by malevolent forces so effective. Sure, there’s shocking violence and some infamously gross pea soup, but shocks for shocks’ sake have dulled the subgenre into rote spectacle. The scariest thing about the devil in these tales is his insidious omniscience about those trying to resist it. The devil knows our secrets – and it knows how to turn our deepest, most carefully hidden thoughts into weapons.

“There’s a tendency for movies about possession to go for the creature part, the loud approach and the scary voice,” said Saco-based filmmaker Alexander Balzano. “And that can be effective. But a much more subdued, less-is-more approach is a lot creepier.”

Chris Turner as a priest living a double life in “Clandestine.”

Balzano’s Maine-made and Maine-set short horror film “Clandestine” seeks to prove his point that what makes the devil so dangerous is how he can see the things we least want the world to know – and use that fear to his own ends. That’s the plot of Balzano’s scary short, about a young Catholic priest in rural Maine (Maine actor Chris Turner) whose mission to investigate a supposedly possessed boy in his parish puts him in the crosshairs of an entity that knows about his secret, loving relationship with a man, and threatens to explode the pious man’s already precarious double life.

It’s a potent theme that touches on what Balzano calls “the hypocrisy around organized religions that preach love and acceptance” while condemning LGBTQ+ members for being who they are. Influenced by French journalist Frédéric Martel’s controversial 2019 exposé on highly influential Vatican clergy who are themselves secretly gay while they spout anti-gay hatred, “In the Closet of the Vatican,” “Clandestine” examines how a man of faith must make a wrenching choice in order to fulfill his duties.

“In this rural part of Maine (the film is set in and around Machias), he is the only priest for miles and miles,” explained Balzano, “So it falls to him to take on this mission from the Vatican to determine whether a local case warrants an official exorcism.” Upon meeting with the strange young boy who may or may not be the host of something evil, the priest is met with a being that, somehow, seems privy to his every, carefully kept secret – and uses that knowledge to taunt and manipulate him. (Referring to his film’s manipulative entity, Balzano jokes that his devil is less about blood and gore than it is similar to Meryl Streep’s witheringly insightful boss in ‘The Devil Wears Prada.”)


In the original “Exorcist,” that was the devil’s playbook, too. Jason Miller’s attending Father Karras is himself beset with doubts about his own faith and harbors terrible guilt about the death of his elderly mother. And the entity inside the little girl he’s sent to help knows just how to keep him afraid and off-balance. For Balzano, the time is right for a twist on the formula that delves into how the often contentious relationship between religion and sexuality takes center stage in this battle of wills and faith.

“I grew up very Catholic, born and raised in Portland,” said Balzano, a freelance photographer, filmmaker and script consultant who recently graduated from Boston’s Emerson College. “I’ve been fortunate to meet lots of friends in the LGBTQ spectrum over the years and I’ve always been interested in the intersections of sexuality, organized religion and faith. For the main character, he’s forced to lead a double life, and that secrecy leaves him vulnerable.”

Cam Prophett as a possessed boy in “Clandestine.”

As a filmmaker, Balzano, who also contributed a short to 2017’s edition of Maine-made horror anthology Damnationland, viewed “Clandestine” as a way to approach the demonic possession genre on a more intense and intimate scale. The fact that the young Maine filmmaker knew that such a stripped-down creepy tale was all he could afford to make fit right in with the sort of clever resourcefulness the Maine film scene thrives on. While “70 percent” of his film was shot on a single, eight-hour day earlier this month, according to Balzano, the real hard work starts now.

“We shot mostly in my (very tiny) Saco apartment for most of the film, with a small cast. Still, I’ve hired Maine professionals to work post-production on everything from color correction to sound. That all adds up.” To that end, Balzano is going the tried-and-tested crowdfunding route, asking for backers to donate toward the estimated $1,500 the filmmaker set as a goal. Check out crowdfunding site IndieGoGo to add to the $220 already raised by last week.

With plans for “Clandestine” to hit the film festival circuit upon completion (those pesky entry fees are also factored into the fundraising goal), Balzano is seeking to continue his lifelong passion for ambitious visual storytelling.

“Before going to Emerson, I studied with Southern Maine Community College’s Media Arts and Production department, under Corey Norman,” said Balzano, “I spent a semester in L.A. making contacts and plan to get out there and see the rest of the world. But I wanted to come home first. Life always gets in the way, but I just thought, ‘Screw it, I’m going to pull the trigger and put ideas into action.’ ”

And, as every Mainer knows, Maine is where the horror is, with Balzano praising leading man Turner for taking on such a “complicated role” and delivering more than even the filmmaker imagined. “I can’t say enough good stuff about Chris,” said Balzano. “He brings emotional layers as this person who is constantly putting on a performance himself. He makes everything that much more elevated and mature.”

You can learn more about Alexander Balzano’s upcoming, Maine-made horror short, “Clandestine” (and chip in a few bucks if you choose), at indiegogo.com/projects/clandestine-short-film#. For more about the filmmaker, visit the Resurgam Productions Facebook page.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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