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  • Monday, 26 February 2024
The Pope’s Exorcist. A supernatural horror that feels like a fake William Friedkin movie

The Pope’s Exorcist. A supernatural horror that feels like a fake William Friedkin movie

Russell Crowe plays an audacious priest who makes some Spanish sausage out of a not-so-terrifying demon. Sounds like pure fun, right? Well, it is unless it’s not.

Words by Jan Tracz


While watching the new Russell Crowe supernatural horror, there is a visible discrepancy. Its introduction is well-thought, mesmerizing and makes the spectator speak glowingly about its first thirty minutes. What initially seems like a fresh breeze in the genre’s plethora of poor titles, transits into a festival of cliches and cringe-inducing jump scares. We beseech Russell Crowe’s priest, Gabriele Amorth, to, finally, finish his slightly verbose exorcism.


It’s executed, more or less, in the same vein as William Friedkin’s classic film, The Exorcist (1973), where the film’s priest, some kind of a newcomer, has to save someone “possessed” and confront his demon(s). The whole storyline revolves around a stereotypical family (a single mother with two kids) who, after settling down in a mysterious Spanish abbey, are terrorized by a demon, called Asmodeus. This hellish, non-visible devil is fibbing, always trying to set a trap for Amorth, but the priest's steadiness and almost superhero presence make him resistant. At these moments, the film makes a huge effort to sacralize our priest, yet he resembles someone he (likely) hasn’t been in real life.



The Pope's Exorcist, 2023, Sony Pictures Releasing 


But, let’s be clear: Russel Crowe puts in a fine showing as this real-life figure, priest Amorth, on whose books the film is based in the very first place. However, he is presented as an intrepid Chandleresque figure, as Crowe’s priest is rather an unstately Servant of God, a witty alcoholic who is not scared of other bishops, as he is the Pope’s (played by Franco Nero!) secret agent (just re-read it and see how insane it sounds). Our priest rides a Vespa and even gets his own Watson/Hastings assistant figure (think Father Karras from The Exorcist or Lorraine Warren from The Conjuring), a young priest named Tomas Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto). At times, The Pope’s Exorcist feels like a Christian buddy movie – in this case, “the boys”, instead of talking about sex and girls, in all seriousness, discuss faith and Jesus Christ’s presence in their lives.  


During the second half – when the demon boasts of its own power and becomes a substantial danger to our heroes  – the film is unequivocally dull and strongly relies on common horror tropes (a moving bed, a demon pretending to be someone else and changing its hosts’ bodies, or some Jedi-like powers pushing our heroes into the air). That being said, The Pope’s Exorcist only sounds like an ideal proposition for horror lovers; its enjoyable moments are, unfortunately, intermittent, smouldering with some perfectly balanced shockers, while the rest consists of silly dialogues and pathetic, Christianity-serving advertisement (“Do you repent your sins?” asks Amorth a couple of times). It gallops through some uninteresting ideas, just as if the screenwriters didn’t have any unique propositions.


The Pope's Exorcist, 2023, Sony Pictures Releasing 


After watching The Pope’s Exorcist, two things are undeniable. Firstly, it is another mediocre film, inadvertently lampooning the world’s most ambivalent profession in the entire world. Secondly, Russell Crowe anchors this B-class horror and proves he can poke fun at himself by redefining his film image. Yet, even if we want to believe that this film is based on Amorth’s real-life experiences, its absurdly offhand and implausible final sequence highlights the divide between the truth and an ecclesiastical fable.


We shouldn’t expect anything more from a film which, without any reflection and further ado, states that Amorth’s books “are good.” It’s only a pity that the same cannot be written about Julius Avery’s church-superhero movie. Even if watching The Pope’s Exorcist isn't dawdling, the film is still a cheap copy of Friedkin’s opus magnum. 

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