Movie Review: ‘The Pope’s Exorcist’

Director: Julius Avery

Cast: Russell Crowe, Daniel Zovatto, Alex Essoe, Franco Nero, Peter DeSouza-Feighoney, Marsden

Director: Father Amorth works as personal exorcist to the Pope, but his methods put him at odds with some Cardinals. He faces his greatest challenge yet when the King of Hell takes up residence in a young boy.

Review: There’s something that always gets me off on the wrong foot with exorcism movies. They’re tend to fit a very narrow sub-category of horror movies that functions as a template to be fitted onto a new spin. Young children, freaked out family. religious artefacts, an old priest and a young priest, sacrifice. Whether it’s a “true story”, a found footage movie or a parody, there’s a very rigid formula.

The Pope’s Exorcist is a buddy cop movie circa 1980’s, the scripts written by Shane Black in particular, with a dash of real life characters for good measure. Our grizzled old, unorthodox priest is Father Amorth (Crowe), who doesn’t play by their rules. He plays by the book and answers only to the Pope (Nero). Crowe is having a fine time, really working an accent and riding a little scooter. Crowe has long been able to carry a film, and he’s fun to watch here. The naive young and ambitious partner is Father Esquibel (Zovatto) who is out of his depth and is about to have his dark secrets revealed.

After Amorth sasses a panel of pencil-pushing bureaucrats he is sent by the Pope to investigate a case (complete with the Pope tossing him a file, police chief style) involving a widowed mother and her two kids who recently moved into an old Spanish Abbey. Previously mute Henry (Desouza-Feighoney) is the youngest child and is showing signs of demonic possession. Local priest Esquibel had called for help, and Amorth is dispatched. We get the scratches in the skin, restraints to the bed, disturbing language, head twisting, inappropriate sexual behaviour, shaking furniture. There’s a point where it feels like everyone has accepted that this idea has been done perfectly once already and everyone else is just riffing on it.

This one escalates to a wild degree though. It’s good fun, and we were a bit stunned by some exploding people and lava pits moments. We were also a bit charmed by the shameless set-up for the sequels. We appreciate the camp.

Even with all the flair, it seemed to be struggling to fill the run time. For reasons that were never entirely clear to us the Pope falls sick. We cut back and forth between the exorcism and people running around the Pope’s hospital bed. There’s an implied connection between the events, but he mostly slowed things down.

If we’re going to do more exorcisms, please do something to mix it up. Maybe someone who’s not a child. Pick someone less sympathetic than a traumatised child, someone that has done something irredeemable or who invited demonic possession for some reason.

Rating: SIX out of TEN