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The Pope’s Exorcist Review

April 15, 2023 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Russell Crowe The Pope's Exorcist Image Credit: Screen Gems
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The Pope’s Exorcist Review  

* Russell Crowe as Father Gabriele Amorth
* Daniel Zovatto as Father Esquibel
* Alex Essoe as Julia
* Franco Nero as The Pope
* Laurel Marsden as Amy
* Peter DeSouza-Feighoney as Henry
* Ralph Ineson as the voice of the Demon

Story: Follow Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican’s leading exorcist, as he investigates the possession of a child and uncovers a conspiracy the Vatican has tried to keep secret.

There’s a term on TV Tropes, for those that still use it, called ‘Genre Killer’. Sometimes it means a movie that bombs so spectacularly that it makes the genre unattractive to Hollywood and so it dies out for a while. Sometimes it means a parody that’s so good at its job, you can’t take the genre seriously anymore. And sometimes it’s a movie so good that nothing else can follow it.

In a lot of ways, The Exorcist killed the exorcism subgenre of horror in the cradle. Nearly every single aspect you see in them, even now, can be attributed to William Peter Blatty and William Friedkin. It’s an easy way to generate jump scares for the easily startled or do something shocking to disturbed casuals. This type of movie is to Hollywood what a zombie movie is to the independent scene. It’s popular, it’s easy and it’s also a lazy way to make a quick buck. There are few examples of exorcism movies that are even watchable, let alone good. Not even the sequels to The Exorcist were immune to this.

So now, fifty years later, we have The Pope’s Exorcist, a movie that tries to set itself apart from the pack by giving itself stakes. This isn’t just any old exorcist battling a demon, you see, this is The Pope’s exorcist, which means he tackles the biggest and baddest demons out there. It sells itself. It also helps that Father Gabriele Amorth, because now the movie can be sold as ‘based on a true story’, even though I’m 100% certain nothing in this movie happened to him. Mostly because the movie gets progressively more absurd as it continues.

Yes, in the wide plethora of exorcism movies over the years, this is certainly one of them. It has every tired cliche the genre has to offer from the priest with a past to the demon making the child it possess do ‘shocking things’. Although I will give it credit, one of the things it has the kid do is so blatant in its attempt to offend that it comes off as hilarious. I was not aware a child could chew the scenery until I saw Peter DeSouza-Feighoney’s performance. Fair play to him, it looked like he was having a blast playing a demon. It doesn’t let me take the movie seriously, but it was definitely amusing.

There’s also been a trend in these types of religious horror movies to cast the Church itself as an antagonist of sorts, and we get that here. The Church covered something up, you see, and played right into the demon’s hands! Only our hero can stop it because he’s the best at his job, even though the Church is bureaucratic now and frowns upon exorcisms! These aren’t necessarily spoilers, mind you, because I could be describing a dozen of these movies. Replace “Church” with “police” and “exorcism” with “justice”, and I’ve described two dozen cop movies.

So yes, The Pope’s Exorcist is cliched, it’s goofy and it contains way more CGI than is necessary. So much so, in the end, that it undermines the goodwill it established before that. And yes, it does establish goodwill, because director Julius Avery was smart enough to get a great cast. This is a B-movie with an A-list actor leading it, and that actor delivers. I like to think Russell Crowe either saw the script as a challenge, or no one really told him what kind of movie he was in. Because he could have phoned it in or hammed it up and instead did neither.

Crowe plays Amorth as the devout priest you may have seen in the trailers, but he also is very affable. He rides a Vespa, he says “coo-coo” for no real reason and he tells jokes to lower people’s defenses. It’s a very likable performance and establishes him right away as someone you want to cheer for. When the demonic bile starts hitting the fan, he shines there too, giving a strong performance while saying things you’ve heard before in a hundred of these. Christopher Lee once said that every actor will be in a bad film, but the trick is not to be bad in them. Crowe is very, very good in this, way better than he needed to be.

The rest of the cast likewise does well enough, and you’ve likely seen both Alex Essoe (Starry Eyes) and Daniel Zovatto (It Follows, Don’t Breathe) in horror movies before. They know what they’re doing and they know exactly what the film needs. Avery, as well, has made entertaining B-movie horror before, as Overlord was similarly better than its parts. This has the same kind of energy.

Is that enough to recommend it? Honestly, yeah. It’s not going to make any best-of list and I wouldn’t even call it “good”, per se, but it’s entertaining enough. The cast and crew elevate the material above the likes of The Rite, The Devil Inside, Prey For The Devil or similar dreck that came out over the years.

The final score: review Average
The 411
If you're tired of exorcism movies, The Pope's Exorcist is not going to convert you. It's goofy, cliched and brings nothing new to the genre. However, no one told Russell Crowe that, because he tries his hardest to elevate the material and actually makes it an amusing diversion. I hope this makes enough money to give him sequels, because he earned them.

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