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The Pope’s Exorcist – Film Review

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the popes exorcist film review
the pope’s exorcist film review

Putting the words ‘The Exorcist’ in your title, regardless of whether other words separate them, is a big shout. The mind immediately skips to the 1974 classic, and suddenly you’ve got some catching up to do. 

The Pope’s Exorcist knows this, and is game for the comparison. It immediately goes for the extremes: in the white corner, we have the Pope and his hand-picked exorcist, played by Maximus himself, Russell Crowe. In the black corner, it’s Satan and his army of two-hundred fallen angels, all looking to rise up and swarm the mortal world. It feels wrong to say that 1974’s The Exorcist was subtle, per se, but in comparison to The Pope’s Exorcist, its set-up is positively low-key.

A meeting between Russell Crowe’s Gabriele Amorth and a committee of Vatican skeptics sets the tone. He has been practicing exorcisms for decades, yet the new wave of Catholics believe that Satan is more a metaphor than real threat. You can probably guess which side of the argument The Pope’s Exorcist falls down on. Gabriele points out that, if there is no evil in the world, what is the point of the Vatican existing at all? He drops the theoretical mic and walks out. 

Shock, horror, he’s completely right. The epicenter of this evil is in Spain where – inexplicably – an American family is looking to renovate an inherited cathedral. That must have been quite the will to settle. It’s huge and dilapidated, and it increasingly becomes clear that beneath its foundations is something that the Catholic Church would rather remain hidden. 

But of course you can’t make a renovation omelette without breaking some walls, and soon the evil is free. It whistles up the nostrils of the son in the American family, Henry Vasquez (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney, very much looking the part of innocent corrupted), where he promptly starts spewing out filth in pretty much every definition of the word. A priest is thrown out of Henry’s bedroom and Gabriele is called. The exorcism begins, doubled up with some diluted Indiana Jones exploration in the basement. 

We found it incredibly hard to take this portion of the film seriously, mostly because of the decision to dub over Henry’s voice with the dulcet tones of Ralph Ineson. For those who may not know, that’s Chris ‘Finchy’ Finch from the UK’s The Office. Hearing a child suddenly develop a gruff cockney accent from one of our favourite character actors is an odd experience, and not one we’d call ‘immersive’. 

The Pope’s Exorcist falls into a trap at this point, too. You could easily form an exorcism bingo card, with all of the hallmarks that are expected from exorcism movies. There’s the backwards-turning head; the woman who suddenly arches her back and becomes a yoga spider; the sudden and violent vomiting; the levitating. The Pope’s Exorcist gets a full house. It’s nothing to celebrate: we had a feeling throughout the exorcism sequences that we had been here multiple times in the past, often in parodies. The Pope’s Exorcist attempts to deliver tense exorcisms by ticking as many boxes as it can, but can’t find the wherewithal to create new ones itself. 

When you toss in Russell Crowe’s accent and attempts at Italian (Gabriele’s dialogue is only fifty percent in the English language, which makes the casting a bold choice), you’d think that The Pope’s Exorcist was heading for a car crash. But somehow, through all of these questionable decisions, we found the good in it. We’d even go so far to say that we were entertained. 

We’ll pin a lot of that on the direction. The Pope’s Exorcist is filmed as if it were an important and artful movie – clearly the cinematographer didn’t attend the table-reads – and it ends up being a rather beautiful film, particularly as the action moves into the ruins of a previous exorcism. The VFX, too, has been handled by someone with genuine interest in showing something new. A moment when a character gets dragged back to Hell is visually interesting, while the rest of the effects – when contemporaries The Flash and Quantumania are receiving a lot of criticism – is subtle and used sparingly. 

But most of all, The Pope’s Exorcist is in love with its own mythology, creating a – whisper it – universe that could feasibly get filled out by more movies. Whether that will happen or people will want it, we couldn’t say, but there’s a feeling throughout that you are peeping into a window of a larger history, a bigger set of rules than you are currently party to. It waves vaguely at a larger stage than we are currently on, and hey, we found that rather fun. It’s a strange comparison, but John Wick pulls off a similar trick. Perhaps Russell Crowe has lucked into a similar franchise. 

The end result is – like poor Henry – a meeting of two different personalities. The Pope’s Exorcist is undeniably schlocky, with a script that barely meets the quality level of a Hollywood blockbuster (“It’s a devil you wouldn’t want to meet”, says the Pope. Well, duh), an Italian-spouting Russell Crowe and a barrage of exorcism cliches. But then there’s an artful side, with some gorgeous direction and locations, and a mythology that hints at a wider history.

Much like Henry, the two personalities co-exist reasonably well, when you’d expect one to dominate the other. We wouldn’t call The Pope’s Exorcist high art, but we wouldn’t deem it to be throwaway big-budget horror trash, either. The resulting chimera is often unintentionally hilarious, scratching at something interesting, and never less than entertaining. 

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Cinematography is unexpectedly gorgeous
  • Builds a potentially interesting universe
  • Everyone is game and gives it their all
Cons:
  • The exorcism stuff has all been done before
  • Script has dire moments
  • Look, it’s Chris Finch!
Info:
  • Purchased by TXH
  • Running time and release date - 1hr 43mins | 2023
  • To rent/buy - £3.49/£11.99 SD, £4.49/£13.99 HD, £7.99/£17.99 UHD
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Cinematography is unexpectedly gorgeous</li> <li>Builds a potentially interesting universe</li> <li>Everyone is game and gives it their all</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>The exorcism stuff has all been done before</li> <li>Script has dire moments</li> <li>Look, it’s Chris Finch!</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Purchased by TXH</li> <li>Running time and release date - 1hr 43mins | 2023 <li>To rent/buy - £3.49/£11.99 SD, £4.49/£13.99 HD, £7.99/£17.99 UHD</li> </ul>The Pope’s Exorcist - Film Review
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