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  • Nate Adams

'The Pope's Exorcist' review: The power of Christ doesn't compel you

Courtesy of Sony


It’s not everyday you get to see Russell Crowe fully commit to a shoddy Italian accent and ride around on a tiny vespa, looking identical to the now infamous Orson Welles pic, and on those hysterical merit’s “The Pope’s Exorcist” edges very closely into so-bad-it’s-good territory. Set aside the fact Crowe is probably the least Italian-looking person anyone has ever seen, and there are instances within the film that conjure legitimate intrigue. There’s an amazing opening sequence involving the main subject, Father Gabriele Amorth, that tries flipping the switch on this genre with evil getting played against itself. It also offers a brief glimmer of hope the movie won’t be a cheap “The Exorcist” knock-off.

That is until the movie becomes not only a knock-off of “The Exorcist,” but the entire genre as a whole. 

“The Pope’s Exorcist” was always going to face an uphill battle. Audiences can count on one hand, the amount of good exorcism movies within the last two decades: “The Conjuring,” and “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.” And for “The Pope’s Exorcist” to stand out from the pack, it needs a good hook and solid execution. It has one of those elements in the form of Crowe, who seems devoted to the bit and interjects quirky one-liners and physical mannerisms that gives the character a breezy, light-hearted feel amid all the demonic chaos, but the film still feels like a hodgepodge of better possession thrillers. 

Loosely inspired by a true story, (Amorth passed away in 2016), the film sees our chief Vatican exorciser sent on assignment to the abbey, which was recently inherited by Julia (Alex Essoe) after a car accident claimed her husband’s life. She’s there trying to fix the place up and sell it, bringing along her two children, Amy (Laurel Marsden) and Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) for reasons that are never explained. 

Naturally, Henry starts acting fussy and saying odd phrases not normal for young pubescent boys and we find out he’s been overtaken by an otherworldly entity voiced by the great Ralph Ineson (“The Green Knight”) and he wants a dialogue with Father Amorth. Before you can say: “The power of Christ compels you,” Amorth is on the scene, teaming up with the youngster Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto), unleashing prayers at record speeds while getting flung around the room as Henry projectile vomits and curses profusely. You know, normal exorcism stuff. 

Even more ludicrous, the movie doesn’t outright say, but implies the Catholic church wasn’t responsible for the Spainish Inquisition or child abuse, rather, the devil made them do it! All of this as Amorth and Esquibel discover a secret, underground “Da Vinci Code” like enigma that has major spiritual implications. On one hand, give credit to “Overlord” director Julius Avery for riding this wave and getting a memorable performance out of Crowe (for better or worse), but on the other, nothing is legitimately scary in “The Pope’s Exorcist.” Except for the idea some folks out there might believe the falsehoods spread throughout the movie. 

Spookier things have happened. 

Grade: C- 

THE POPE’S EXORCIST is now playing in theaters.  


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