The Pope’s Exorcist review: Fun but forgettable horror flick

The Pope's Exorcist movie stillSony Pictures

New Russell Crowe horror movie The Pope’s Exorcist is spooky enough, but it doesn’t have enough scares to rival any other possession movie.

If you’re looking for a new film to scratch that Halloween itch in spring, then The Pope’s Exorcist, a new horror film starring Russell Crowe, could be a good time for you.

The official synopsis is as such: “Inspired by the actual files of Father Gabriele Amorth, Chief Exorcist of the Vatican, The Pope’s Exorcist follows Amorth as he investigates a young boy’s terrifying possession and ends up uncovering a centuries-old conspiracy the Vatican has desperately tried to keep hidden.”

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The Pope’s Exorcist is an enjoyable and spooky time with acceptable performances, but with its reliance on overdone tropes, and an ending that borders on anti-climactic, you’ll likely have exorcised this movie from your brain by the end of the week. Let’s get into it, but first: warning! Spoilers for The Pope’s Exorcist.  

The Pope’s Exorcist has overused tropes, but overuses them well enough

We open with a well-mixed fun and tense scene, in which real-life priest Father Gabriele Amorth tricks a “demon” into possessing a pig and shooting it. We immediately get the sense that he’s not your average priest; he recognizes that most of his exorcisms can be boiled down to mental demons rather than actual ones, and he clearly has fun on the job. He swears, drinks, jokes, and rides a funny little moped around town.

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Crowe does a good job of portraying the Italian priest, though you’d have to ask an actual Italian to see if his accent and Latin-speaking work. The acting is generally good for everyone – even the children, which is a relief as the film requires you to buy that this young boy is possessed by one of the biggest demons out there.

In terms of other technical aspects, this film is filled with effects to portray any and all demonic activity. While the practical effects are pretty great for the most part, unfortunately, the CGI leaves a lot to be desired, to the point where it breaks the immersion of scenes meant to be scary.

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The gore is good, but sadly the movie never goes far enough with it. We get a lot of your stereotypical demon effects: girls in white dresses, demonically possessed teenagers, spiders crawling across the ceiling, bones cracking, flickering lights, swearing, and puking blood – they’re pulling out all the tropes here.

But these cliches were already overdone by the 1980s, so the film itself being set in the 1980s doesn’t save it. There’s a woman – who recently lost her husband in a car accident – who is now moving to a new home, along with her angsty rebel teenager daughter and silent shy son.

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However, it is refreshing when the movie avoids such trite decisions. When any demonic activity starts happening, we don’t get any “It must have been the wind” rubbish. When the boy begins acting possessed, his mother immediately takes him to the hospital, yes, but after his tests come up clear and he is clearly acting as a servant of the devil, the mother isn’t super resistant to the idea that her son could be possessed.

The movie gets to the point pretty quickly, and the scares don’t really let up once they get started. Though there is the overuse of tense music; often scenes will start with that music already playing, giving no mystery about what will happen at any given moment.

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There are also a couple of stupid character moments, but in the end it’s all part of the fun of a basic horror movie. Though this film makes a feeble attempt to be more than basic.

It doesn’t have the guts to hammer home what it’s trying to say

It’s apparently based on a true story, and the story does attempt some grounded realism in which the concept of the church and religion itself is discussed. We won’t get into whether or not demons are real; no demons would make for a pretty lame horror movie. The issue is the way that the film discusses these themes, but doesn’t have the guts to make a truly haunting story.

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This plot, and the story surrounding the demon as a whole, calls into question the corruption of the Vatican, but this corruption is set too far into the past to really ruffle any feathers now. We have trials set up that are then humorously swept under the rug, and we hear about sexual abuse, about heinous acts done in “The Name of God,” but most of this is supposedly done under the influence of the demon, making the church appear as a universal good overall. It’s hard to say how those of faith will respond to it, but those who have been victims of organized religion make take issue with this depiction.

Amorth’s guilt over not helping someone avoid this corruption, guilt which haunts him throughout the film, also isn’t that potent. The movie clearly doesn’t want to make him so flawed that you question his position as the hero of the story, which makes for a much less interesting or horrifying tale.

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As for the end of the film, which we won’t spoil here, everything wraps up a little too neatly. You’re left waiting for a dark twist that never comes. This ending may be closer to the truth, but sometimes, the truth doesn’t make for better cinema.

The Pope’s Exorcist review score: 3/5

Overall, The Pope’s Exorcist will make for a good day out with friends, or a fun night in once it hits streaming. However, it’s likely going to leave anything more than a slight demonic burn on the horror genre.

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The Pope’s Exorcist is now available to view in UK cinemas, and will be in US cinemas April 14. Read more about the film here.

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