27th Oct2023

‘The Pope’s Exorcist’ Review

by James Rodrigues

Stars: Russell Crowe, Franco Nero, Ralph Ineson, Daniel Zovatto, Paloma Bloyd | Written by Michael Petroni, Evan Spiliotopoulos | Directed by Julius Avery

In 2020, Screen Gems acquired the rights to the story of Father Gabriele Amorth, the Italian priest who reportedly performed over 100,000 exorcisms for the Vatican. Ángel Gómez was originally hired as director, although the project would see changes in 2022, as Julius Avery took over directorial duties while Michael Petroni and Evan Spiliotopoulos would offer script revisions. Now, The Pope’s Exorcist sees a horror film made around the man apparently known as ‘the James Bond of exorcists.’

In 1987, an Italian village is visited by Father Amorth (Russell Crowe), the pope’s personal exorcist. His arrival involves investigating a man’s apparent possession by a demon, which Amorth taunts by claiming it could not even possess a pig. This is all part of the exorcist’s plan as, once the pig is possessed, it receives a shotgun blast to the head. Of all the scenes to set up the tone of this film, this was the perfect one.

The incident gets Amorth in trouble with a church tribunal, led by a sceptical American Cardinal intent on punishing the exorcist for acting without permission. Amorth is uninterested in this charade and tells the tribunal to direct any grievances to his boss – The Pope (Franco Nero). A key part of why such familiar territory is made entertaining here is Crowe’s charismatic portrayal, as he’s an utter joy to watch whether he’s speaking with a wild Italian accent or riding a Vespa.

Amorth is assigned to a new job, involving an American family restoring an abbey they have taken possession of. Their young son has been traumatised and refusing to speak since his father’s death, although that changes as he speaks foul things upon being possessed – with a demonic voice distinctively provided by Ralph Ineson. With the help of local priest Father Tomas Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto), Amorth investigates.

Through the sequences, trauma is said to be a gateway for the devil while guilt is shown to be weaponised by manipulative forces. The priests are made to face their past sins and, while Amorth keeps saying that his sins have been forgiven, the lingering question regards if the father can forgive himself. When elements like this are so engaging, it is unfortunate how the central family is significantly less interesting as they just feel like perfunctory set-up for the exorcism action.

The back catalogue of horror is littered with unremarkable exorcism films, many trying to follow in the footsteps of William Friedkin’s 50-year-old classic, The Exorcist. Avery’s direction brings style to what could have been another bog-standard exorcism film as, while scares may be lacking, pulpy fun fills the feature in ways resembling Avery’s 2018 flick, Overlord. While it is expected for a modern film to set up a sequel, The Pope’s Exorcist goes all-in by setting up 199 follow-ups. If they are all as entertaining as this film, then every instalment is eagerly anticipated.

*** 3/5

The Pope’s Exorcist is available on DVD and Digital now from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.


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