When I first heard that there was a movie called “The Pope’s Exorcist,” I thought maybe it was about a guy that performs an exorcism on The Pope. That could be a cool idea – the holiest man in the Catholic Church himself needing an exorcism. But no, it’s just about The Pope’s preferred exorcist going off and performing an exorcism on yet another possessed teenager. Ho Hum.
Russell Crowe plays Father Gabriele Amorth, a real-life figure in the Catholic Church whose story, I’m sure, is more interesting than anything in this movie. He’s described in the movie’s advertising as “wisecracking,” but that’s a stretch. He offers a few dry remarks, plays some head games, makes some goofy noises, and is flippant with a review board, but I never felt that “wisecracking” was a particularly accurate descriptor. Maybe because I never found any of his “jokes” to be funny.
The Pope (Franco Nero) sends Amorth to Spain to investigate the possession of young Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney). Henry, along with his mother (Alex Essoe) and sister (Laurel Marsden) just moved into an abandoned abbey, and soon enough the boy is hissing vulgarities and throwing around local priest Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto). Since the abbey is in Spain, it’s not hard to guess the dark secret of the house’s history. Supposedly nobody expects it, but I did.
The literal demon forces Amorth and Esquibel to confront their figurative demons. Amorth feigned death during World War II and has survivor’s guilt. He also botched the treatment of a young woman in his care. Esquibel is guilty of something much sleazier if the demon is to be believed. I suppose these sins are necessary for character development so that we know these men are flawed, but the scenes of flashbacks and confessions just scream “padding the runtime” to me. How can a movie this short seem to take so long? Roger Ebert said that no good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough. I’ve seen some decent movies that could use some trimming (“John Wick: Chapter 4,” anyone?), but far fewer exceptions to the latter rule.
Name a tired element of the exorcist genre, and it’s probably here. Veteran exorcist teaming up with a novice priest? Check. Possessed kid speaking in a voice that clearly isn’t theirs? Check. Crab walk? You know that’s a check. Head spinning around? It doesn’t do a 360-degree spin, but one does go backwards for a bit, so a faint check. Ineffective jump scares? Check, if the movie even thinks it’s doing jump scares. Lame finale with bad CGI and a lot of thrashing? I’d almost be disappointed if this movie got better in the last ten minutes and that wasn’t a check.
“The Pope’s Exorcist” is a hacky horror movie with Oscar winner Crowe supposedly lending it credibility, though it really just makes me feel sorry for how far his star has fallen. It managed to make a meager $9 million at the weekend box office, getting dominated by “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” with nearly ten times that amount (that movie gets two more weekends to lay waste to everything in its path). You’d be better off giving your money to almost anything else, including fourth-place weekend finisher “Renfield, which has a few funny ideas and is at least good for a “C” grade. It’s hard to forgive this movie for wasting so much of my time.
“The Pope’s Exorcist” is rated R for violent content, language, sexual references and some nudity. Its running time is 103 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.