I must admit, my expectations were moderately low heading into this film; I don’t particularly have any reason as to why, either. Audience and critic reviews are insanely mixed, and I tend to caution away from forming an opinion until I have viewed something myself. In the end, The Pope’s Exorcist delivers.
Inspired by a real-life figure of the Vatican, Italian Catholic priest Father Gabriele Amorth was the Chief Exorcist for the Vatican until his death in 2016. Whilst the individual is real, the events that transpire in the film are largely fictionalised. With that being said, the fabricated story never takes away from the intricacy of the movie. I dare say it stands close to other films of the genre, such as The Exorcist.
*Warning: Spoilers lie ahead for The Pope’s Exorcist*
Satan is in the Vatican
If there’s such a thing as being eased into an exorcism, this film does the complete contrary. The title opens with a young man in Italy who displays common signs of possession. This scene undoubtedly serves to set up Russell Crowe’s protagonist, Gabriele Amorth who is every bit persistent as he is unafraid of the Devil.
Amorth beckons the demon to release the boy’s soul and to instead possess a pig, a trap the demon falls straight into. Once the demon advances, there is a gruesome cut that sees the pig shot straight through the head.
Much of the plot develops similarly, and doesn’t always match the gore that is witnessed in the opening scene. The subject of the possession is a young boy, Henry, who moves to a Spanish abbey with his mother and older sister a year after he witnesses his father impaled in a car accident. The demon (who the pair discover is called Asmodeus) lives through an individual’s trauma and soon demands that the family deliver him Amorth.
The story becomes less about the family dynamic and more about the Vatican’s underground conspiracies. It is refreshing to move away from the conventional themes, and it provides a reason to focus more on Crowe’s character. Amorth works alongside Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto) as both characters are goaded by Satan for their greatest sins—committed before and after their time in the seminary.
Director Julius Avery exercises an interesting message about Catholicism that utilises women as the symbol of the priest’s regrets. Father Esquibel atones for having sexual relations with the majority of the congregation’s daughters after the devil unearths his dark secret—only for us to later discover that one of these young girls is his soulmate.
Arguably, the one fault that lies within this creative decision is that the narrative often deviates from one concrete motivation in terms of Amorth’s past. We are familiarised with a sense of guilt regarding his wartime service. This is soon forgotten in favour of the guilt that consumes him regarding a young woman in his past. During his time working as the Vatican’s exorcist, Amorth is plagued by the one woman he is unable to save—whose fate saw her take her own life after suffering from sexual assault.
It’s unfortunate the guilt of his service in the war is not delved into, but the alternative is still aggrandising and bares more significance to the overarching theme.
A buddy-cop priest duo
The Pope’s Exorcist truly feels it’s most authentic when maximising its time with the unexpectedly entertaining duo of Fr. Amorth and Fr. Esquibel. I love a buddy-cop pair, and this is very similar to those seen in works such as Men in Black. The entire film has a wonderful balance between its pensive nature and humour. The comedic timings are an absolute pleasure to watch and had almost everyone in my theatre giggling throughout.
I’m once again here to say that Russell Crowe is a superb actor who has no struggles with either comedic beats, or severity. This film lends itself to his performance. In fact, the shots of Amorth riding a Vespa through Spain are a creative choice made by Crowe, who was inspired by his time in Rome where he observed priests doing the same.
Peter DeSouza-Feighoney (Henry) does an excellent job in his Hollywood debut. His performance is exceptionally unnerving and shocking. Henry’s sister Amy (Laurel Marsden, Ms Marvel) executes the fear that encapsulates her regarding Henry’s possession very well. Henry’s mother, Julia (Alex Essoe, Doctor Sleep) masterfully portrays grief, terror, and despair in her performance, in addition to the previously mentioned Daniel Zovatto (Don’t Breathe).
Setting up 199 sequels
After conquering Asmodeus and saving the abbey grounds, the newly appointed cardinal of the Vatican seeks the assistance of Amorth and the young Spanish priest. They must hunt the residual 199 locations that are exposed once Asmodeus is defeated and exorcise the demons that they uncover. Seriously, if we’re now in the Russell Crowe demonic universe, sign me up!
Whether we can expect to see a sequel to The Pope’s Exorcist in the near future is entirely conditional on its box office numbers, and despite only sitting at a stingy 48% on Rotten Tomatoes, I would recommend this to any fan of the horror genre.
The Pope’s Exorcist: Why It's A Surprisingly Charming Buddy-Priest HybridThe Pope’s Exorcist: Why It's A Surprisingly Charming Buddy-Priest Hybrid
- Excellent casting
- Intricate plot
- Great humour
- Some plot points forgotten
- Could have had more possessed Henry!