The Pope's Exorcist Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
Another month, another exorcism horror feature. Russel Crowe stars as the Chief Exorcist of the Vatican, but manages to bore audiences to sleep.
Genre: Horror / Thriller
Director: Julius Avery
Cast: Russell Crowe, Daniel Zovatto, Alex Essoe, Peter DeSouza-Feighoney, Laurel Marsden, Cornell John, Ryan O’Grady, Carrie Munro & Franco Nero.
Run Time: 103 min.
US Release: 14 April 2023
UK Release: 07 April 2023
German Release: 06 April 2023
April is upon us, meaning Easter time; it is ironic that this year’s first exorcism flick is released precisely this week. The trailers already did not convince me, yet I hoped to have at least a good time at the cinema with friends. While we managed to have a laugh or two, most of this horror thriller is rather bland, containing a ridiculous premise that is supposed to be based on the real memoirs of Father Amorth, and directed by Australian regisseur Julius Avery. So, grab your Bibles, as we pray our way through my review for The Pope’s Exorcist.
Chief Exorcist of the Vatican Father Gabriele Amorth, is sent to Spain to investigate the terrifying possession of a young boy. While assessing the situation, the priest uncovers a century-old conspiracy, which the Vatican desperately tried to keep hidden.
Sony Picture’s Screen Gems acquired the rights to the story of Gabriele Amorth, in late 2020 and started quickly moving development on a movie around the legendary exorcist. Ángel Gómez was approached to direct, while R. Dean McCreary, as well as two other screenwriters, were attached to develop a script. By June 2022, Gómez had left the project with Julius Avery, known for Son of a Gun, Overlord plus last year’s Samaritan, taking over directing duties. Michael Petroni together with Evan Spiliotopoulos, were brought in to revise the screenplay.
Right out of the bat, the narrative for The Pope’s Exorcist is bad. While Friedkin’s original from 1973 had revolutionised the genre, still being effectively creepy to this day, there is no denying that this specific subgenre will only let one use specific clichés for so long, until it becomes stale. The writers tried to subvert expectations by not playing into jump scares, focusing more on shock value, as well as a surprising amount of comedy. That said, there are still specific tropes one can’t be escaped when producing this type of horror content.
As such, the topic alone does not stand out. The implemented humour is awkward, the pacing is at times dreadful, especially once it starts jumping inexplicably between the setting of the possession and the Vatican. Any sort of build-up in tension is immediately nullified. The biggest issue, however, is how predictable the premise is, making for an absolutely boring cinematic experience.
Now, I needed to buy tickets for a screening in Germany, as no cinemas played it in English. That said, you could hear when the dubbing came into play, which left me surprised at the original audio track that saw Crowe speak in near-perfect Italian.
As for Russell Crowe, he gives a fairly good portrayal of priest and exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth. Based on the memoirs of the real clergymen of the Diocese of Rome, Crowe manages to bring on screen a little bit of his character, especially his sense of humour. While that doesn’t always fit the general atmosphere of the premise, Crowe’s acting seems to be best, when he doesn't take his character too seriously. That said, his transition from a jokey person to a dead-panned face, when things get dark, is praiseworthy.
Daniel Zovatto portrays Father Esquibel, the Spanish priest of the Castillian area this plays in. His character is sadly used as psychological canon fodder for the demon, or exposition dump for the exorcist to explain to him what to do next. Esquibel has no real depth to him, even revealing a past that is pretty despicable for a clergyman of god.
The rest of the cast is composed of the tormented American family, who had moved to Spain. Alex Essoe plays single mother Julia, though is written as extremely shallow. Laurel Marsden, as the teenage daughter Amy, who is also the older sister of Henry, is most clichéd. Finally, we obtain a better, physical, performance by young Peter DeSouza-Feighoney as the possessed Henry.
The cinematography is pretty standard, containing solid framing plus composition. The most creative shots are the few that use angles. Editing-wise, a lot of cross-cuts are being implemented, to jump from the Spanish setting to the Vatican City. While it served a purpose along the first act, it becomes rather irritating during segments that are meant to build tension. The camera work also reverses the claim of this feature, to be based on real accounts, as it looks more like fantasy. The lighting is kept dark, while the colours are slightly desaturated.
Unfortunately, instead of making proper use of practical effects, most of what is seen on screen was created on a computer. It becomes a real issue, once the narrative reaches its third act, as the visual effects keep adding, yet the CG lacks in quality, and as such, it can become quite distracting.
The score, composed by Australian musician Jed Kurzel, overwhelms the plot with its bombastic soundtrack, feeling too manipulative during the “frightening” scenes.
Verdict: It seems as if Julius Avery has lost his touch a little. I am a big fan of Son of a Gun, and I didn’t mind the B-movie-stylised Overlord. Last year’s Samaritan, the superhero flick with Sylvester Stallone, was a big disappointment. Now, he directed a subpar exorcism film, that has an absurd story, though it states that it is based on real facts. By eliminating most of the jump scares, in an attempt to try to subvert expectations, it created one of the most boring horror thrillers, unable to stand on its own. The jokes and comedy feel forced and aren’t even funny most of the time. The bizarre implementation of cross-cuts during the second to the third act, worsens the pacing issues. Best is Russell Crowe as Chief Exorcist Father Amorth, who lightens up his role by not taking the character too seriously. His use of Italian is also impressive. All in all, The Pope’s Exorcist managed to disappoint, rather than scare. I’ll give it a 3.5 out of 10.
What was your take on this possession film? Have you already seen it? Do you agree with my opinion, or did you like it? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below & as always, thank you for reading!