• Release Date: – 07/04/2023
  • Cast: – Russell Crowe, Daniel Zovatto, Alex Essoe, Franco Nero, Peter DeSouza-Feighoney
  • Director: – Julius Avery

I was intrigued by the trailer of The Pope’s Exorcist and believed that it had the potential to be a good horror film. The presence of Russell Crowe boosted my expectations of the film. The idea of the devil possessing the most powerful exorcist in the Vatican and what he could do with such a body and soul were limitless and so was the story’s potential. I was astonished by the torrential downpour of negative reviews for the film ever since its release. Some of them came from sources that I trust. I was crestfallen and didn’t want to spoil my love for the genre and so decided to give it a miss. Strangely, the film kept lurking in my mind and I had half a mind to see it before judging it with the rest of the world. So, with fewer expectations and a friend who hates horror films and had never seen a horror film in theatres before in my tow, I embarked on a shaky escapade to sit through this comparatively shorter horror film that everyone was hating.

The film begins with a disclaimer that I am not sure whether it was meant only for India or the entire world. The disclaimer read that the film was a work of fiction and had nothing to do with real people, events or things. This was the very first red flag for me as the promotional materials for the film marketed it as based on the real-life experiences of Father Gabriel Amorth, the chief exorcist of the Vatican. Was it all just a ploy to grab eyeballs? Maybe yes! I still tried to play along with the film though.

The plot: –

The story revolves around Father Gabriel Amorth, the flamboyant and prolific chief exorcist of the Vatican. He is smart, influential, well-read, humorous and a humanitarian. He has had an interesting past that is riddled with memories of actions and failures that haunt him. Amorth is having a tough time facing evil and dealing with a tough and fast metamorphing papacy that considers all that Amorth does as nothing more than blemishes on the reputation of the now modern Catholicism. They also want to penalize him for his outrageous manners of exorcism that included animal slaughter in the most recent case.

It is at this juncture that the Pope calls upon Amorth to visit an Abbey to deal with an evil that is not only prehistoric and hungry for retribution but also knows all the dirty little secrets of the Vatican, Amorth and anyone else that it lays its eyes on. It can use that same knowledge and weaponize it against the souls that it wants to disarm. What happens next is what the film is all about.

There is no horror, tension or jump scares here: –

The one thing that I expect any horror film to do is to scare or atleast spook me with its story, execution, mood or set pieces. Yes, there are different types of horror films and not all of them are of a nature that needs to deliver a scare a minute but going by the story and the approach that this film takes, it was definitely one that needed to scare its audiences to leave any impact whatsoever. The film is not only devoid of any scares but many of its scary moments are unintentionally hilarious. This aspect of the film left such a bad taste in my mouth that I was unable to appreciate any of the other minor qualities that it displayed from time to time.

Shockingly poor direction from Julius Avery: – 

Julius Avery previously directed Overlord, a film that was not essentially a horror film but was a lot scarier than what we get here. I was shocked at how mediocre the direction of this film was. I was speechless at how Avery never even attempted to build any atmosphere or incorporate the characters with some genuine emotions. The possession of a child which should have been a harrowing and unsettling experience in the film comes and goes without any precursor, buildup or even a proper explanation. There are four other characters in the Abbey apart from Amorth. For this film to have worked out, these characters needed emotional depth, meaningful backstories and atleast one of them needed to have died. Sadly, none of that happens in the film and this results in a horror film that is devoid of any horror, tension, and stakes and feels uncharacteristically flimsy.

A treat for the ones who don’t want to be scared: – 

My friend sitting next to me who is spooked even by trailers of horror films watched the entire film with an ear-to-ear grin on her face. She felt empowered at not feeling scared in a horror film that she didn’t know why she walked into. She also kept asking me how atleast two characters in the film could sleep off on multiple occasions so easily when a raging demon in the same building was raining down hell on Amorth and his deputy. My reply was simple, because the director didn’t know how to proceed with the story unless they slept and also because this is one of the most bird-brained horror films to have come out in a long time.

Riddled with poor visual effects, cliches and repetitive tropes of horror films: –

The film is riddled with every possible cliché and repetitive troupe that you associate with a horror film and it is all done with the subtility of breaking down a wall with a sledgehammer. The path that the story takes to the climax was getting a little interesting towards the end but the horror element was so comedic and everything in the film felt so unnecessary and unearned that it didn’t matter. This also brings me to the God-awful visual effects of the film that were unpardonably bad. How the demon is dispatched to hell will make some cringe and some others laugh out loud. I don’t understand how such poor visual effects were even okayed by the director to be put on screen.

Russel Crowe’s Italian ascent reminded me of my khati Axomia friend Nir trying to speak Nagamese: –  

This was something that always put a smile on my face thanks to Nir’s horrible rendition of the language. Crowe is so caricaturish in his essay that I couldn’t take him seriously even for a second. If you cannot take your protagonist seriously in a horror film then the chances of that film succeeding are bleak. Crowe does keep the proceedings interesting and breezy but at no juncture is able to extract any genuine emotions like fear, tension, care or for that matter inspiration for his character or predicament. I don’t blame his performance for the debacle as much as I blame the horrible writing and direction of the character.

The failure of the child actor was the final nail in the coffin: –

Child actors in horror films have always extracted genuine fear and instilled dread for characters and predicaments even in horror films that haven’t turned out too well in entirety. Peter DeSouza-Feighoney is not one of those actors. In his support, it can be said that his character was written so poorly that it was doomed from the beginning. Sadly, he never even tries to raise above the mediocrity of the writing and direction through his essay. He just reads lines in the most inane manner possible and the rest is left up to the unimaginative makeup and visual effects to pull off. His transformation from normal to the possessed state is never documented in the film and that ensures that there is never any genuine understanding of the torture that his character might be going through. The fact that the character was never established also ensured that the audience never cared enough for him to be interested or impacted by all that was happening to him.

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Final words: –

The Pope’s Exorcist is a blemish on the modern rendition of classic horror. It is a film that must be avoided at all costs to preserve the fond memories of all that was good about horror films and all that we loved about the genre. Not even a seasoned actor like Russell Crowe can add any credibility to this farce that was dead on arrival. Julian Avery delivers a tumbling disappointment after showing so much flair in Overlord. I just hope that Evil Dead Rise releasing next week turns out to be a better film.  

Rating: 2/5 (2 out of 5 Stars)  

The views expressed in this article are that of the reviewer and do not reflect EastMojo’s position.

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