Film Review: “The Pope’s Exorcist”

  • Starring: Russell Crowe, Daniel Zovatto
  • Directed by Julius Avery
  • Rating: R
  • Running time: 1 hr 13 mins
  • Lionsgate
Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, the 1973 supernatural horror film “The Exorcist,” starring Max von Sydow and Ellen Burstyn, is regarded by many as a true, cinematic classic. The newest entry in the demon possession genre, “The Pope’s Exorcist” is not so much. It is loosely based on two books – 1990’s “An Exorcist Tells His Story” and 1992’s “An Exorcist: More Stories” by Italian priest, Father Gabriele Amorth (1925-2016) who claimed to have performed tens of thousands of exorcisms during his career. Filled with cliches and horror scenes too reliant on over-the-top special effects rather than true psychological terror, “The Pope’s Exorcist” should probably be exorcised from theaters for everyone’s well-being.
Set in 1987, “The Pope’s Exorcist” takes us to a small Italian village where Father Gabriel (Russell Crowe), the Pope’s personal exorcist, drives a demon out of a man and into a pig, which is subsequently shot dead. The incident gets Father Gabriel, a practical man with a sense of humor, in trouble with a Catholic Church tribunal who questions him for acting without permission. There is a sense that there are forces within the Church working against Father Gabriel, but this aspect of the story is inexplicably dropped and not further developed.
Meanwhile, a recently widowed mother (Alex Essoe, “Doctor Sleep”) and her two children – a traumatized son, Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) and an angst-ridden, rebellious, moody teenage daughter (isn’t that how all teenage girls are portrayed in horror films?), Amy (Laurel Marsden) – have traveled to Spain to move into a spooky old castle that’s undergoing renovations. Shockingly enough (insert sarcasm), strange things start happening and Father Gabriel, under direct orders by the Pope (Franco Nero, “John Wick: Chapter 2,” “Django Unchained”), comes to the rescue aboard his motor scooter.
Assisted by a local priest, Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto, TV series “Station Eleven,” “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels”), Father Gabriel encounters a demon possessed Henry as the two priests must overcome their own sins to defeat evil.
Directed Julius Avery, who brought us the forgettable 2018 film “Overlord” about a bunch of American soldiers fighting Nazi zombies in World War II, “The Pope’s Exorcist” is a rather silly film that lacks thrills, chills, or even mild goosebumps. Fear is replaced by a few laughs and sheer boredom. Crowe is entertaining in the role and seems to be having a good time with it. There is also somehow one good, albeit brief scene, when Crowe’s character first encounters the possessed boy. The remaining time is just unimaginative schlock.
Overall, say a prayer to give you the strength to not watch this film.
“The Pope’s Exorcist” receives one star out of five.

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