Russell Crowe - Father Gabriele Amorth
Daniel Zovatto - Father Esquibel
Alex Essoe - Julia
Franco Nero - The Pope
Laurel Marsden - Amy
Peter DeSouza-Feighoney - Henry
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Based on true stories. Father Gabriele Amorth, Chief Exorcist of the Vatican, investigates a young boy’s terrifying possession and ends up uncovering a centuries-old conspiracy the Vatican has desperately tried to keep hidden.
If you watched the trailer to THE POPE’S EXORCIST and thought that you’ve seen this film time and time before, you would be correct as this 2023 movie is as generic as they come where it concerns possession films. All the tropes are there - an innocent child getting possessed by a demon, the family taking the possessed victim to doctors to realize it’s not a medical issue, two priests with flaws trying to vanquish this demon to save the child and protect the victim’s family, and even a priest begging the demon to possess them in order to save the child. I swore I’ve seen this movie before. Did Sony really try to upstage David Gordon Green’s THE EXORCIST reboot/sequel before its release this October? Sneaky sneaky, Sony.
Seriously, THE POPE’S EXORCIST could and probably should have gone straight to streaming since it doesn’t really add anything new to this type of horror sub-genre, especially when a more hyped film with a similar theme is coming out later in the year. The only reason it didn’t is because of Oscar winner Russell Crowe, who is the best part of this movie with an entertaining performance as the title character. The actor is clearly having fun playing a priest who gets to face off against demons [both physical and personal], performing all the tropes with a smile on his face and a wink to the audience. He gets to speak multiple languages. He gets to play both good and evil. Crowe could have really coasted with THE POPE’S EXORCIST, but he totally has his heart in the role and he elevates a by-the-numbers horror film into something more watchable than it deserves.
And even though the film is obviously about good triumphing over evil through faith and love in God, I appreciated that THE POPE’S EXORCIST criticizes some aspects of the Church at certain points. Superiors want to eliminate the process of exorcisms, feeling they’re old hat. But Father Gabriele questions that if they do that, what’s the point of spreading the word of good against evil? Also, the two lead priests have things in their past that affect their progress during the exorcism, giving us a look that even these so-called “saints” struggle and succumb to sin just like the rest of us. It’s refreshing to see a movie that’s focused on religion and faith being this powerful thing to let in some negativity on the Church and some of the people that work for it. So the film gets points for that.
Unfortunately, since the film is mainly focused on Father Gabriele and Father Esquibel, the story doesn’t allow the audience to really know the family of the possessed child. Other than the fact that the family is dealing with grief over the death of their husband/father and are in Spain to sell inherited property [that just happens to have been part of the Spanish Inquisition], not much is really known about them. Unlike the McNeils in THE EXORCIST, The Montellis in AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION, or even Emily Rose in THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, the audience has no real attachment to the victims. That takes away tension and suspense because I honestly didn’t care what would happen, while at the same time knowing that good would triumph because that’s what these films tell us. It’s a shame because their performances were pretty good, especially Alex Essoe as the mother and Peter DeSouza-Feighoney as the young possessed boy, Henry. But I’ve seen these similar roles performed better in other films, and that’s due to the script.
The direction by Julius Avery is fine, but nothing memorable. If you’ve seen other possession horror films, you know what you’re getting here. There’s nothing new in terms of style or presentation. Tension and suspense isn’t really there. Jump scares don’t really work, at least not on me. The CGI gets pretty heavy during the final act and that’s actually used quite well for the most part. But to be honest with you, I watched THE POPE’S EXORCIST two days ago and I barely remember anything that stuck out from the visual presentation. Pretty on-the-nose stuff here.
THE FINAL HOWL
A pretty generic exorcism movie, THE POPE’S EXORCIST only really manages to stand out due to a fun Russell Crowe performance as the title character. While the rest of the cast are decent, Crowe steals the show in every scene he’s in and truly seems to be enjoying himself since he knows what type of movie he’s acting in and embraces it. The film is also elevated by a not-so black and white look at the Church, the flawed priests and the superiors’ stance on exorcisms back in the day that makes one question if they believed evil could possess good people or not. Other than that, every trope you need in an exorcism story is here and you won’t be surprised by the lack of suspense, tension and scares because you know exactly where things are going. Even the visual presentation by Julius Avery is by-the-numbers, despite a good use of CGI in the film’s final act. THE POPE’S EXORCIST is watchable fluff not worth getting possessed over.
(6 out of 10)