Movie Review: The Pope’s Exorcist

I think it’s fair to say that the gold standard for films about demonic possession belongs to THE EXORCIST. William Friedkin’s classic film scared the bejeezus out of audiences when it came out in 1973 and it continues to delight new generations of this genre’s fans 50 years on.  Now we have THE POPE’S EXORCIST, which ups the ante on how apparently important ridding innocent lambs of evil spirits is to the Church. Unlike the fictional Father Merrin, Father Gabriele Amorth was a real person who travelled around Europe exorcising evil spirits on behalf of the Diocese of Rome. A journalist before he was a priest, Amorth wrote more than 30 books about his experiences with the supernatural. Two of those books form the basis for this film.

For a priest who makes his life’s work battling demons, Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe, THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS) is a funny guy. His lightheartedness and penchant for a nip of whisky every now and then, combined with his unorthodox methods for exorcising evil spirits from people, has not brought him many fans amongst his peer group at the Vatican, but Gabriele doesn’t care. He answers to a higher authority, not them, and that higher authority is the Pope (Franco Nero, DJANGO; DIE HARD 2) himself. When word reaches His Holiness that an American boy in Spain may be diabolically possessed, Father Gabriele hops on his Vespa and heads for a dilapidated abbey where the boy, his mother and teenage sister are staying. Once there, Gabriele takes over from Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto, LADY BIRD; IT FOLLOWS), a local priest who has already had a run-in with the as yet unnamed malevolent spirit and it didn’t go well. Gabriele gets down to work and soon learns something about the abbey that dates back to the time of the Inquisition. It seems that this demon has been imprisoned for quite a while and now that it’s free, it’s not going to go down without a good fight.

Let me first start with the setup, which leans heavily into the ridiculous. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been on a Vespa and after a couple of hours on it, my ass was killing me. Driving from Rome to northern Spain doesn’t seem to bother Gabriele at all because the film makes it look like Spain is located just outside of Rome. The distance between them, though, is about 1500 km. A Vespa has a top speed of about 100 kmh, which means it would take Gabriele two days to get there at best. Then there’s the American family who is living in the abbey. We learn from the mother that the abbey was in her late husband’s family for generations. She has decided to restore it so that she can sell it because they need the money. Call me crazy but if they’re strapped for cash, why doesn’t she just sell it as is? And what mother would bring her children halfway around the world to live in a construction site? Has she never heard of a hotel?

The absurdity continues from there and perhaps director Julius Avery (OVERLORD) knew it because THE POPE’S EXORCIST has a fair amount of humour in it, though I don’t think all of it is intentional. Crowe, too, appears to be relishing in the campiness of the story and doing his fair share of overacting. As for the horror element of the story, it’s fairly pedestrian, with copious amounts of blood, swearing and a tiny bit of nudity thrown in because, well, we’re dealing with priests. What’s good about this film is the music by Jed Kurzel, who previously worked with Avery on OVERLORD.

Barely a week into its global release and the film has already made a profit. Does that mean we’ll be seeing more of Father Gabriele on screen? I hope not but money talks.

THE POPE’S EXORCIST opens in Hong Kong’s cinemas today (April 20th). It’s basically a B-movie starring an A-list actor. If that’s your thing, go for it. I thought it was holy crap.

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