27th Oct2015

‘The Vatican Tapes’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Olivia Taylor Dudley, Dougray Scott, John Patrick Amedori, Michael Peña, Djimon Hounsou, Peter Andersson, Michael Paré, Alex Corrado, Kathleen Robertson, Alison Lohman | Written by Chris Morgan, Christopher Borrelli, Michael C. Martin | Directed by Mark Neveldine


After a young woman, Angela (Dudley), begins to express increasingly erratic and strange behaviors, her father (Scott) and boyfriend (Amedori), along with priest Father Lozano (Peña) and two Vatican exorcists (Djimon Hounsou and Peter Andersson as Cardinal Bruun), come to realise that she’s been taken over by an ancient satanic force. It’s all up to Father Lozano to wage war for more than just Angela’s soul, but for the world as we know it…

Sometimes it pays to stick with a film. Case in point. The Vatican Tapes.

It’s fair to say I was very interested in what Crank director Mark Neveldine would bring to the horror genre, after all the high-energy, “don’t-give-a-shit” attitude of the Jason Statham starring movies was infectious, I don’t know anyone who – at the time – didn’t think Neveldine and his co-director Brian Taylor were reinventing the US action movie wheel. Since then the duo may have gone off the rails slightly, yet even their lesser output: Gamer and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, still had flourishes of greatness. So Neveldine, bringing that same directors eye, the visual flair, to the horror genre? That was an intriguing prospect.

But then The Vatican Tapes rolls out on screen and it’s another cliched possession movie, the types of which we’ve seen before: an oddly behaving woman, omnious crows, etc… It was like theplot was hitting every stereotype in the horror handbook. And that’s despite some neat little visual touches such as the mixing of found footage, traditional filming techniques, and CCTV.

However sticking with the film past it’s early cliched moments and the script starts to take a different turn, foregoing the expected for a new path, and one that takes The Vatican Tapes into much darker, and more satirical, territory than its possessed-person brethren. The second half of the film also ups the ante on the action, with Neveldine using his obvious skills in the genre to bring something new to this particular brand of horror – including an incredible first-person view of a car crash: rolls, flips and all; and an Indian Jones-esque reveal about the Vatican and its involvement in demonic possession that vindicates the films title way beyond the use of found footage.

It also helps that Neveldine has a fantastic protagonist in actress Olivia Taylor Dudley, who switches from scared innocent to demonic she-bitch from hell with ease, and with great conviction. She’s ably assisted by Michael Peña who stars as Father Lozano, the priest who contacts the Cardnial Bruun about Angela’s theological plight. It’s easy to see why, despite his more comedic film history, Peña was chosen for the role – his almost everyman persona allows his character to be very much the audiences view into the world of demonic possession, giving us a window into this strange and terrifying situation.

Starting out as nothing more than a set of possession movie cliches and stereotypes wrapped up in some high energy visuals, The Vatican Tapes turns out to be a lot more than audiences will first bargain for. And by the time the film ends – with a truly bleak vision of possession – what started out as another run-of-the-mill horror, becomes a diatribe on American religious fundamentalism and TV evangelism, and a terrifying vision of the Book of Revelations come true.

The Vatican Tapes screened as part of the Frightfest Halloween Shockathon on October 24th. The film is on limited release across the UK from Friday, October 30th.


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