‘The Pope’s Exorcist’ movie review: A brilliant Russel Crowe in a straightforward exorcism story

Julius Avery’s film moves rather jerkingly from one point to another but that doesn’t stop Russel Crowe from having lots of fun in his horror film debut

April 07, 2023 03:18 pm | Updated 04:19 pm IST

Russel Crowe in a still from ‘The Pope’s Exorcist’

Russel Crowe in a still from ‘The Pope’s Exorcist’ | Photo Credit: Sony Pictures

Russell Crowe has an inordinate amount of fun in his horror film debut. Based on Gabriele Amorth’s memoirs, An Exorcist Tells His Story and An Exorcist: More Stories, The Pope’s Exorcist is set in 1987, Castile. A grieving widow Julia (Alex Essoe), her rebellious daughter Amy (Laurel Marsden), and her traumatised son Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) take up residence in an abandoned church in Castile, which is the only thing Julia’s husband Roberto Vasquez (Santi Bayón) left for the family.

The Pope’s Exorcist (English)
Director: Julius Avery
Cast: Russell Crowe, Daniel Zovatto, Alex Essoe, Franco Nero
Runtime: 103 minutes
Storyline: An exorcist uncovers a buried truth when casting out a demon from a boy

Julia’s idea is to renovate the church, sell it and return home to the US. The local priest, Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto), is helpful and supportive. Naturally, things go bump in the dark, which is pretty much all the time in the gloomy interiors.

Henry, who was in the car with his father when he died, has not spoken since the accident. Instead of going out in the sunshine and taking in the astounding views, Henry goes about poking in the dark — why do people always go to dark spaces in horror movies? He finds some scary things and then awful things begin to happen.

Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe), an Italian Catholic priest and exorcist of the Diocese of Rome, who we saw in action earlier, casting a demon from a young man into the body of a pig, is called in. In Rome, though the Pope (Franco Nero) is supportive of Amorth and sees his work as essential, there are others including Cardinal Sullivan (Ryan O’Grady) who feel exorcism and demons are dreadfully old-fashioned and do not serve the image of a modern church.

There is a perfunctory discussion on the nature and existence of evil and off Amorth goes on his Vespa (inspired by seeing priests ride around on a Vespa, Crowe apparently insisted on Amorth riding one) to deal with the latest of the devil’s minions.

The demon (Ralph Ineson) possessing Henry knows things about Amorth, which proves he is the real deal and also rather powerful. Amorth tells Esquibel that the demon would use their guilt against them and that they should stay strong by praying in Latin.

Amorth carries the burden of survivor’s guilt and the failure to save a young woman in distress while Esquibel chose the church over love. Apart from the swearing, upside-down spider-walk on the walls and regurgitating red cardinals instead of the good old projectile green vomit, there is a conspiracy involving the Spanish Inquisition.

A recent re-reading of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist (1971), which was the inspiration for the hectically successful 1973 William Friedkin film (50 years ago on December 26), proved thrilling and troubling in equal measure. The novel is thrilling for the gradual reveal of the cause of Regan’s bizarre behaviour, as well as the battle between a guilt-wracked Father Damien Karras and the powerful demon, and troubling for the novel’s obviously misogynist stance.

The Pope’s Exorcist is not derailed by any such subtext. It is a straightforward possession story with the Spanish Inquisition twist added by screenwriters Michael Petroni and Evan Spiliotopoulos (The Unholy). The film seems to have been cut quite a bit by the censors, as it moves rather jerkily from point A to B. That however does not come in the way of enjoying Crowe as Amorth, sailing hither and thither on his little scooter guzzling double-shot espressos or whiskey and chirping “Cuckoo”.

The Pope’s Exorcist is currently running in theatres

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