The Pope’s Exorcist Synopsis: Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe), Chief Exorcist of the Vatican, investigates a young boy’s terrifying possession and ends up uncovering a centuries-old conspiracy the Vatican has desperately tried to keep hidden.
When a powerful demonic spirit imprisons a young boy, esteemed exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth must confront his most arduous case yet in The Pope’s Exorcist.
Exorcisms are a standard fixture of horror features, with a bevy of low-budget titles still trying to cultivate the enchanting allure of 1973’s The Exorcist. The subgenre’s sheer busyness breeds a wide variance of efforts. Some imprint a distinct perspective on supernatural hauntings (The Conjuring continues to build a cinematic universe out of the concept), but the majority symbolize an ominous morass of forgettable features. Recent titles, such as Prey for the Devil and Demonic, have already vanished from my memory bank, leaving little trace in their conjuring of tepid horror devices.
It can be easy to get cynical about the endless onslaught of exorcist features, which is part of what makes The Pope’s Exorcist such a delightful surprise. What it may lack in innovation, The Pope’s Exorcist readily compensates for in its spirited take on a tried and true concept.
The true ace up the film’s sleeve is Oscar-winner Russell Crowe as Father Gabriele Amorth. Crowe continues forging a fascinating second-act career path, utilizing his transfixing screen presence and unrelenting dedication to elevate several breezy genre vehicles (Unhinged and The Nice Guys come to mind).
In the role of Father Amorth, Crowe’s robust skill set personifies the character with remarkable ease. His commanding gravitas and cutting humor are tailor-made fits as a seasoned church veteran dedicated solely to his righteous values. The actor also showcases a deft balancing act in his characterization of Amorth, capturing the infectious magnetism of his charismatic personality while still vulnerably unburdening the insular terrors that linger from his past. Crowe’s immense abilities allow The Pope’s Exocist to maintain more weight than most streamlined horror productions.
Additionally, the creative team behind the camera provides an A effort with their B-movie production. Overlord and Samaritan director Julius Avery has quickly emerged as one of the industry’s best genre filmmakers. He boasts a knack for creating frighting setpieces within the confines of minuscule budgets, steeping Pope’s Exorcist in a gamut of unnerving macabre flourishes. Menacing shadows, timely jump scares, and ingenious practical effects are all implemented by Avery with technical aplomb throughout the production.
Even the screenplay generates better results than many of the film’s exorcist contemporaries. Writing duo Michael Petroni and Evan Spiliotopoulos showcase a keen perspective in framing the narrative’s religious pastiche, juxtaposing Amorth’s steadfast faith against the lingering malpractice corrupting the church’s values. Sure, this is not a revelatory concept for horror films, yet the duo meditates effectively on their approach without burdening the material with didactic inclusions.
Don’t get me wrong – no one will mistake The Pope’s Exorcist as a horror masterwork. The film retreads ideas and iconography from many of its superior predecessors, while the supporting cast surrounding Amorth serves little purpose aside from moving the plot forward.
Still, The Pope’s Exorcist deserves praise for scaring up a good time at the multiplex. The film exudes confidence and craft in its enthralling take on a familiar horror staple.
The Pope’s Exorcist is now playing in theaters.