The lead performance from Russell Crowe and the horror visuals make The Pope's Exorcist worth the watch.
BY BECCA JOHNSON APRIL 12, 2023
Directed by Julius Avery (Overlord) and starring Russell Crowe (Gladiator) in his debut horror role, The Pope's Exorcist is this year's token religious horror. The movie is based on the true story of Father Gabriele Amorth, Chief Exorcist of the Vatican, as he investigates a young boys terrifying possession and ends up uncovering a centuries-old conspiracy that the Vatican has been trying to keep hidden. Although pretty formulaic and full of the scares you'd expect, the lead performance from Russell Crowe and the horror visuals make it worth the watch.
Russell Crowe is a very seasoned actor, having tried his hand at a range of roles including comedies, superhero flicks and even a musical, so it's hard to believe The Pope's Exorcist is his first horror flick to date. Despite this, he is a funny, confident and believable Father Amorth, easily becoming the movies best asset. The humour may be a little forced at times, his dialogue generic and his accent thick, but it really works, and he's great. Daniel Zovatto (Lady Bird) is also good as Father Esquibel, who works alongside Amorth to help save the young boy. He struggles with his emotions and is clearly out of his comfort zone in demon fighting, but he soon comes into his own. Alex Essoe (Doctor Sleep), Franco Nero (Django Unchained) and Cornell John (Captain America: Civil War) also deliver – the performances work well.
The trailer and plot summary lead audiences to believe that this is a horror with a strong religious theme, a mystery element and an in-depth look into the Vatican and it's secrets. Whilst those are somewhat true, The Pope's Exorcist is largely a run-of-the-mill possession horror – whether this is a positive or negative is down to the viewer. It's horror elements are fairly strong, featuring everything you'd expect from a demon speaking incredibly inappropriately through the mouth of a young child to skin being burnt by a crucifix and crosses turning upside down. It utilises jump scares and horror visuals to it's maximum potential, that although are generic and very over-used, do occasionally work. The CGI is questionable at times but just fine at others, mostly impressing but sometimes looking a touch too fake. However, whenever it's trying to dive deeper into it's themes and shy away from the usual horror movie box of tricks, the movie falters.
Crowe's Father Amorth is clearly a troubled individual being plagued by something he regrets, yet this is revealed fairly early on and all in one go, making it lose an element of it's mystery and intrigue. It's also mentioned by Amorth that the Vatican have covered up lots of instances of sexual abuse, but this incredibly important topic only has one sentence dedicated to it. The script hints at moments of powerful discourse, important messages and relevant topics but fails to develop them, making them feel out of place and one-note. It's easy to question whether these topics should have been discussed further, or just omitted altogether to allow for a sole focus on scare. It's horror elements are just fine, but are often dragged down by it's occasionally boring dialogue. It attempts a little too much, meaning it doesn't do enough in any subplot.
The Pope's Exorcist is worth watching for fans of the genre, or more importantly, fans of Russell Crowe. It's horror elements are definitely heightened at the cinema due to the looming score and jump scares, but it can probably be checked out at home once it inevitably hits VOD in the next few weeks. It's not much different from your usual haunted house/possessed child horror, which will bring comfort and enjoyment to some but familiarity and same-ness to others. The humour is fun as it's so well delivered, but that leaves us with a movie that takes itself seriously in some instances, but not in others. With it's great performances and semi-engaging plot, it's a solid enough flick, but it's failure to delve into it's interesting themes make it a little lacklustre by the end. It appears to have something to say, but doesn't quite get there. At least we got to see Crowe riding around on a little Vesper randomly shouting 'Cuckoo' and making the girls chuckle.