Damn this formula to Hell!
It would take a miracle to top the pure horrors of William Friedkin’s take on William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist.” It’s impossible to top that masterpiece, even if we’v had some success with the first “Conjuring” film from a decade ago. And now, we have “The Pope’s Exorcist,” which stars Russell Crowe in his first horror film. He actually does a good job playing Father Gabriel Amorth, who wrote the memoir that inspired this film.
He has the age and built as the priest, especially when he can transcend in various genres, but why can’t the story be as entertaining as he is? It’s basically more of the same exorcism cliches, especially when kids are demonized, and when the devil attacking their minds has to have the obligatory cursing. “Wrong F***ing Priest,” this one shouts.
Set in 1987, Amorth worries about the presence of Evil, despite what his superiors believe. They complain to him about how he handles his exorcisms, especially since he couldn’t save a particular girl from the devil. At least, he has some compassion from the Pope (Franco Nero), who would eventually see some upcoming horrors.
There’s also a routine family story regarding a family visiting Spain to fix up a house left to them by their recently departed father. The mother (Alex Essoe) tries to talk some sense into her headphones wearing teenage daughter (Laurel Marsden), and her son (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney), who has been mute since his father’s death. But those are the least of her problems, because the devil takes control of the boy.
That’s when Amorth is called into action, and that’s when he requires the assistance of a young priest Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto). As you might expect, they both have troubles of their own, and they sympathize each other. And when they do speak with he devil, the voice is provided by Ralph Ineson. I like to imagine what would happen if Andy Serkis voiced the devil, but then again, Ineson was riveting as the Green Knight in “The Green Knight.”
“The Pope’s Exorcist” was directed by Julius Avery, who also made “Overlord” and “Samaritan,” which were both entertaining (sorry not sorry to the people who disliked “Samaritan”). This one does its best with the actors, who need better material than what they’re given here. The story-with the screenplay by Michael Petroni (“The Book Thief”) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (“Beauty and the Beast” from 2017)-is nothing special, even if this is based on Amorth’s memoirs “An Exorcist Tells His Story” and “An Exorcist: More Stories.”
On a scale of the new R-rated violent movies in theaters this weekend, I would place “The Pope’s Exorcist” between “Renfield,” which was wickedly funny, and “Mafia Mamma,” which was horrible. Crowe is the one who you’re interested in. Not because he is an acclaimed actor, but because of how he plays the main priest. I’ve already explained why. And it would be repetitive for me to say that nothing will top “The Exorcist,” but I know scary entertainment when I see it. The 2000 “Never Before Seen Footage” rerelease trailer still haunts me, while the trailer for “The Pope’s Exorcist” doesn’t, and neither does the actual movie.