Friday, April 14, 2023

‘The Pope’s Exorcist’ Review – Russell Crowe Is the Saving Grace in Generic Exorcism Horror Movie

The Pope’s Exorcist draws basis from the books An Exorcist Tells His Story and An Exorcist: More Stories, penned by Catholic priest and exorcist Gabriele Amorth. Screenwriters Michael Petroni (The Rite) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (The Unholy), along with director Julius Avery (Overlord), eschew the biopic approach when exploring Amorth’s tenure as an exorcist in favor of a by-the-books horror movie. Russell Crowe is the sole saving grace in this diluted and often silly entry in exorcism horror.

Avery’s latest introduces his rebellious Gabriel Amorth (Crowe) in a rural village in 1987. Amorth walks in with remarkable confidence and jovial mischief in his eyes as he quickly exposes a case of psychosis, not possession, leaving the local priest splattered in blood and the family shocked. Amorth barely has time to cuckoo at nuns and get scolded by higher-ups at the Vatican before he’s summoned to a crumbling abbey in Spain. There he meets American mom Julia (Alex Essoe), teen daughter Amy (Laurel Marsden), possessed son Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney, and demonically voiced by Ralph Ineson), and novice local priest Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto).

Amorth’s bid to save the child winds up uncovering a long-buried Vatican secret, putting them all in jeopardy.

Russell Crowe

Straightaway, Russell Crowe establishes an awareness of what type of horror movie he’s in with a disarming sense of humor. Crowe’s version of Amorth asks for espresso when being scolded by Church members or cavalierly tosses found skulls at colleagues while the soundtrack plays on the nose bops from The Cult, The Saints, and Violent Femmes. But the energetic music cues cease quickly as the protagonist gets shoehorned into a generic exorcism formula that only occasionally teases something far more interesting.

The script quickly bypasses the setup to get straight to the possession. The clunky dialogue exists solely to drive the plot forward, characterization be damned. That means the family at the center of Amorth’s latest case operates as stock characters to further the Exorcist’s journey. Like the demon antagonist, the script only has eyes for Amorth. The well-trodden possession tactics get employed as Amorth, and Father Esquibel, work through their past sins.

The Pope's Exorcist

The Pope’s Exorcist does give a brief respite from the generic exorcism with a sharp detour into an archeological adventure deep in the abbey’s bowels. It’s this inspired stretch that introduces some of the film’s most compelling ideas and imagery. Unfortunately, The Pope’s Exorcist quickly abandons them to explore Amorth’s sin: pride. It uncovers a daring critique of the Church through this but promptly gets cold feet and abandons the thread altogether in favor of a standard ending, albeit one with more blood and nudity than usual.

Director Julius Avery employs a lot of over-the-top dramatic flourishes that faintly broach camp, from loud stingers to melodramatic camera swoops, but everyone plays their roles with a stone-cold seriousness. Everyone, except Crowe, of course, who’s having a grand time winking at the audience. The logic gaps, the narrative shortcuts, and the conventional approach hinder him, though. The Pope’s Exorcist might’ve been better served removing any basis in fact, albeit very loosely, unshackling the restraint that kept Avery from fully leaning into the silliness of it all. What could’ve been an entertaining B-movie riffing on exorcism horror and the Church itself instead plays it too safe, resulting in a primarily bland affair. At least Crowe’s instinct for hamming it up absolves him from the generic exorcism feature he’s found himself in.

The Pope’s Exorcist is now playing in theaters.

The post ‘The Pope’s Exorcist’ Review – Russell Crowe Is the Saving Grace in Generic Exorcism Horror Movie appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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