The Pope has his Popemobile. The Pope’s Exorcist has his ExorcistMobile. Strutting around the streets of Italy in a scooter, Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe) dedicates his life to the Vatican and the exorcism of demons. His boss, the Pope (Franco Nero), tells him of a demon, unlike anything they’ve ever heard of in a Spanish abbey which has possessed a young child named Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) and his sister Amy (Laurel Marsden). Gabriele travels to Spain (on his ExorcistMobile, of course) to exorcise the children with the aid of Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto).
In this movie, the Pope is Nick Fury, operating a secret Pope’s Exorcist Initiative, where Gabriele and a group of Priests worldwide perform exorcisms. It’s never explained why this is happening in the Vatican. Still, the movie is based on the writings of Gabriele Amorth, who died in 2016 and founded the International Association of Exorcists with priest Jeremy Davies in 1990.
No joke. This is a real thing. Who knows if exorcisms exist, but Amorth’s work in the Vatican focused on demonology and allegedly performed over 50,000 exorcisms. It’s part of that real-life story that makes The Pope’s Exorcist a compelling watch. But it’s also a ridiculously fun horror movie that never takes itself seriously, as soon as Crowe arrives with his ExorcistMobile to transfer the spirit of a demon from a human to a pig.
The Pope’s Exorcist never skimps on over-the-top ridiculousness
If you take this movie seriously, you’ll probably leave the theater feeling disappointed. The story is inherently clichéd, and director Julius Avery doesn’t hide the fact that he’s directly copying The Exorcist‘s best moments. William Friedkin‘s horror classic has been the blueprint for every possession film made since then (probably why most of them aren’t good). However, unlike most possession flicks, The Pope’s Exorcist tells the audience, “Hey, we’re borrowing from The Exorcist, but bear with us. It’ll be worth the wait.”
Remember the scene in The Exorcist where Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) says, “Let Jesus f– you!”? In The Pope’s Exorcist, Avery and screenwriters Michael Petroni and Evan Splitopoulos transform that moment into the demon’s whole persona. We’ve got a horny demon routinely stating that he wants to make love to Father Amorth. In contrast, the silly priest makes silly faces while the nuns look at him in awe, continuously drinks Whiskey to relieve his scratchy throat, and brilliantly confesses to the demon that his “worst nightmare is France winning the World Cup.”
This is not a movie to take seriously. Crowe‘s wildly campy performance perfectly knows that the material can’t be handled seriously. But with an ounce of self-aware and ironic humor, he nails the inherently silly stature of Father Amorth, whom I believe wasn’t as iconic as Crowe embodies on screen.
However, the audience has an image of who Father Amorth can be and this persona of not taking orders from anyone. But the Pope and playing with the demons allowed him to be one of (if not) the most successful exorcists in history.
I will not enter into a theological debate on the existence of demons. Still, Crowe‘s performance made me believe that Amorth indeed went toe to toe with Satan and Asmodeus, with a climax so extreme it dials up The Exorcist’s final moments to eleven. Friedkin made a documentary titled The Devil and Father Amorth, where filmed the ninth exorcism of a “possessed” woman in an Italian village by 91-year old Amorth a few months before his death.
A fun horror movie that never takes itself too seriously
Even with a real-life character heading the movie, The Pope’s Exorcist knows how to have fun. Franco Nero‘s line deliveries as the Pope are never too serious, allowing for some genuine unintentional hilarity that makes the film’s climax even more engaging. The action scenes have been done to shreds, but Avery executes them very well. He slowly builds up the confrontation between Amorth and Asmodeus. He even gives a backstory to Amorth that make his plight against the demon feel more urgent.
Yes, the demon is underdeveloped and is a walking and talking cliché. However, since the acting is strong all around, the scares are predictable but genuine, and the atmosphere always stays in a campy vibe, The Pope’s Exorcist works. There wasn’t a moment where I was legitimately terrified. However, I was entranced by the relationship between Amorth and Esquibel, which is well-developed (with Zovatto giving a very good portrayal of the tormented priest undergoing his first exorcism with an experienced mentor) and executed within the movie.
As far as modern horror movies go, The Pope’s Exorcist is completely inoffensive. It may not be the most inventive movie ever made, but I’ll promise you that if you take the movie with the same tone Crowe embodies Father Amorth, you’re going to have a blast. There’s nothing wrong with turning your brain off and enjoying pure camp for 103 minutes. This movie is just that. Now give us The Pope’s Exorcist Cinematic Universe, please.
My rating for the film:
★★★★ / ♥♥♥♥♥
The Pope’s Exorcist is hitting theaters now. Have you seen The Pope’s Exorcist yet? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter @mycosmiccircus or The Cosmic Circus Discord.