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Review: The Pope’s Exorcist (2023)

The Pope’s Exorcist (2023)

Directed by: Julius Avery

Premise: Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe) works as the exorcist for the Diocese of Rome. He investigates the possession of a boy (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) and uncovers a demonic secret that literally threatens to unleash hell on earth.

What Works: Recent years have seen the release of a lot of possession films and The Pope’s Exorcist distinguishes itself by being fun. Rather than dramatizing theological and philosophical ideas about the nature of good and evil, The Pope’s Exorcist is a work of escapist entertainment. It is in some sense a superhero movie with the exorcism duties of the Catholic Church imagined as a sort Men in Black or Avengers style squad of heroes. Consistent with that approach, the filmmakers introduce a bigger idea. The priests uncover an unholy location that could be the point of an invasion of the earth by supernatural creatures. This discovery gives the possession some additional stakes. The Pope’s Exorcist is led by Russell Crowe as Father Amorth. Crowe doesn’t resemble Amorth in body or in spirit but Crowe has a talent for comedy and creating kooky characters, something he hasn’t gotten to do much, and his Father Amorth is an amusing character.

What Doesn’t: The filmmaker’s decision to use Father Amorth’s name is problematic. This isn’t someone who existed centuries ago and has become a folk legend. Amorth died in 2016 and who he was and what he believed are well documented. To ascribe Amorth’s name to this fictional character is ethically questionable to say the least and comes across dishonest and exploitative. A lot of this film doesn’t make much sense. The demonic force is proclaimed to be a threat to the survival of the Church but that remains vague. The Pope’s Exorcist is not a very good possession film. It’s blatantly apes The Exorcist and repeats a number of key images from that movie such as projectile vomiting but the newer film is never as effective. Part of the problem is the quality of the filmmaking. The Pope’s Exorcist frequently looks shoddy. The digital visual effects are terrible. Possession films play on the fear of disease but The Pope’s Exorcist lacks the tactile and organic qualities that make the paranoia of infestation palpable. The comic book like tone of the movie also keeps it from ever being taken seriously. The Pope’s Exorcist is not very scary and it is frequently unintentionally funny. The physical performance by Peter DeSouza-Feighoney as the possessed boy is very broad and the demonic voice of the demon inside him (voice of Ralph Ineson) doesn’t match DeSouza-Feighoney’s performance.

Disc extras: Featurettes.

Bottom Line: The Pope’s Exorcist is shlock reminiscent of the many Exorcist knockoffs produced in the 1970s and 80s. Between Russell Crowe’s performance and the cheap special effects the film is both intentionally and unintentionally funny much more so than it is scary.

Episode: #969 (October 15, 2023)