Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto) and Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe) in Screen Gems’ THE POPE’S EXORCIST.

The Pope’s Exorcist Review – A Passionless Papal Adventure That Lacks Any Divine Intervention

Russell Crowe has been campaigning hard for Julius Avery’s new experiment, intrigued at the idea of playing an exorcist whose key contact is none other than the Pope himself. Father Gabriele Amorth, a man that is said to have performed thousands of exorcisms, marks the foundation for The Pope’s Exorcist, an adaptation of some of Amorth’s memoirs, particularly An Exorcist Tells his Story and An Exorcist: More Stories.

When Father Amorth (Russell Crowe) is called upon to a family mansion to investigate the possession of a small child, it is up to the good priest himself to investigate the evildoings of a demon who has ravaged an innocent family. With historical ties to the Spanish Inquisition that even get the likes of the Pope (Franco Nero) himself intrigued at the mysterious goings on it’s up to Amorth and local priest Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto) to uncover the malevolence lurking underneath the floorboards. There are possessions, sceptics in the church, secret tunnels, crucifixes, and jump scares galore – all normal afternoon fare for your chief exorcist.

Supernatural horror is always a gamble. On one flip of the coin, classics like Dracula (1931), The Exorcist (1973) and Poltergeist (1982) are born. If the coin falls on the opposite side, overwrought and forgotten works like The Haunting (1999) and Boogeyman (2005) are relegated to a clearance bargain bin. William Friedkin who made The Exorcist was fascinated by the real-life Amorth to the point he made a questionable documentary on him in 2017 titled The Devil and Father Amorth.

It is safe to say The Pope’s Exorcist will neither be remembered as a supernatural classic, nor remembered barely at all for that matter (except maybe for a truly good cackle at seeing Russell Crowe in religious garb riding a vespa). It is a shame that with such a kitsch premise, the most fun that can be found of this listless script is a few gags that only Crowe can deliver with mocking irony. He is the only bright light in a dark, dingy, and mind-numbing couple hours of biblical nonsense. It is a testament to Crowe’s acting capabilities that he can hold even the weakest of scripts up with his raw charm.

The direction is so unengaging that it never truly settles on a tone worth giving it a voice. It battles between being a serious supernatural adventure, to self-aware horror schlock, but never a nail-biting intentioned thriller. The film’s biggest crime is how dull its entire visual composition feels. In a genre that thrives off of innovative camera techniques and shocking new ways to scare and terrify an audience (such as The Conjuring 2013), The Pope’s Exorcist brings nothing new to the table. It merely repeats what so many of the ilk have tried before – distasteful jump scares that neither intensify the drama nor increase the spook factor, creaky moments of haunting score, and a dollop of low budgeted CGI set pieces. The main humour of the piece comes from Crowe’s ability to make light of such horrific events going down in such violent fashion – for Amorth, it’s just another day in the job.

The supporting cast do nothing but steadily become targets for the demonic uprising, acting more as backpedalling footnotes rather than actual characters; it covers every cliché from the moody daughter (Laurel Marsden), the protective mother (Alex Essoe) and the quiet, sensitive younger son (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney). Originality is a forgotten word, an omission that makes even the prospect of investigating Amorth’s real life memoirs seem laborious.

There is so little to chew on that even die-hard horror fanatics will struggle to get much substance out of its perfunctory and uninspired sequencing. If you squint, there is a brief underline of allegory regarding the systemic injustices performed by the church, but it is buried deep underneath a thick layer of tedious and wearisome busywork. It struggles to commit to its intentions both on and under the surface. Even Crowe’s comedically unfaithful Italian accent provides little solace in a work that’s at best sardonic, and at worst painfully bleak. Crowe may be the angelic drawing card to this papal adventure, but no amount of divine intervention can save it from how dull the entire affair feels.

The Pope’s Exorcist is primarily focused on exorcising the devil, but what truly needed to be exorcised is a true and inventive premise. With more devil hunting teased on the horizon, a second go around the pope’s inner-demon-hunting-circle needs to, as they say in Latin: ‘Requiesce in pace’ (Rest in Peace).

Director: Julius Avery

Cast: Russell Crowe, Daniel Zovatto, Franco Nero

Writers: Michael Petroni, Evan Spiliotopoulos, (based on the books by Gabriele Amorth)

Kahn Duncan

Kahn is a passionate Melbourne based film lover who looks to film as a tool for both entertainment, education, but also feeling. Attempts to watch at least one feature film a day, but unfortunately life gets in the way sometimes. Prospective Graduate of Media Communications (Screen Studies) and Business (Marketing) at Monash University.

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