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'The Exorcism' review: Russell Crowe headlines another forgettable demonic thriller


Courtesy of Vertical

 

Within the span of just 15 months, Russell Crowe has now headlined two possession thrillers, albeit with different context and narrative drive. It doesn’t make “The Pope’s Exorcist” (which saw Crowe play real-life priest Father Gabriel Amroth in a movie that’s only memorable sequence was the Oscar winner riding around Rome in a vespa) as much as it doesn’t make “The Exorcism” anything even remotely tangible. This despite a pretty good premise that, on the surface, almost suggested a film where director Joshua John Miller, whose father starred in the original “The Exorcist,” might subvert expectations within a genre that’s been belabored beyond the point of satire.

 

“The Exorcism” opens on a four-story movie set within a closed sound stage where an actor is fatally dispatched, forcing the headstrong director (played by Adam Goldberg) to pivot towards a new leading man for a forthcoming project called “The Georgetown Project” which is essentially a remake of “The Exorcist” without every saying it is. The production has decided to take a flyer on struggling actor Tony Miller (Crowe) who is trying to rehabilitate his image and make amends with his daughter, Lee (Ryan Simpkins) who was just suspended from her Catholic boarding school for protesting LGBTQ rights. Given Tony’s rough past and many stints in rehab, the two don’t have the best relationship, but he manages to get her a job as a production assistant on the film. 

 

We learn that Miller also has a rather checkered past regarding his own Catholic upbringing that doesn’t paint the church in a very favorable light. Then again, religious horror generally doesn’t. But what begins as a rather intriguing set-up (a movie within a movie getting overrun with supernatural issues) quickly devolves into another indistinguishable thriller that somehow manages to be both overstuffed and undercooked. By the time we even reach the climatic sequence, it feels rushed and never cohesively brings together its themes of sacrifice and love, nor does it present a compelling angle with which to explore the psychological, physical, and mental abuse the Church instills on young boys.

 

That “The Exorcism” even tries flirting with the idea of altar boys being assaulted is a welcome change of pace for a genre that usually relies on cheap jump scares and wobbly plot foundations. This film has plenty of those peppered throughout the movie (some scares are effective, while most are not) but at least the screenplay by Miller and M.A. Fortin has more on its mind than just Russell Crowe puking black goo. Elsewhere, actors Sam Worthington, playing a supporting actor of the movie-within-the-movie, and David Hyde Pierce as the on-set priest consultant Father Conor are given minimal depth and do the most with their one-dimensional caricatures.

 

Which brings us back to Crowe, who is certainly game for a movie where he’s obviously collecting the paycheck. This movie was actually shot-pre pandemic and has been on the shelf for that amount of time. Now coming out in the wake of two exceptional religious horror flicks “Immaculate” and “The First Omen,” and countless imitators of its kind, “The Exorcism” tries, but ultimately doesn’t do enough to invoke the fond memories of the original “The Exorcist.” As history has told us time and time again, that horror classic set the bar too high. But I don’t think Hollywood is every going to learn its lesson.

 

Grade: C 

 

THE EXORCISM opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, June 21st





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