Exorcist

Review of horror flick, ‘The Pope’s Exorcist’ with Russel Crowe in the title role

May 8, 2023 Mario Bautista 1109 views

Exorcist1

Exorcist2SINCE ‘The Exorcist’ by William Peter Blatty hit it big as a horror movie in 1973, there have been many other flicks about exorcism, like “Exorcist II: The Heretic”, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”, “The Possession of Hannah Grace”, “The Devil Inside”, “The Conjuring”, “The Rite” with Anthony Hopkins as the exorcist priest, and many other replicas.

Now comes “The Pope’s Exorcist” which is inspired by the exploits of Father Gabriele Amorth, the Chief Exorcist of the Vatican for many years. He has impressive credentials as he has written many books on the subject and is also a co-founder of the International Association of Exorcists, which is recognized by the Vatican.

Set in the year 1987, it starts with Fr. Amorth, who moves around in a small Vespa scooter, exorcising a man possessed by an evil spirit which he sends into a pig, just like the story in the Bible where Jesus sent evil spirits to a herd of pigs.

We then see a mother, Julia (Alex Essoe), her teenage daughter Amy (Laurel Marsden) and a younger son, Henry (Peter De Souza) moving from America to Spain. They will occupy the old San Sebastian Abbey that they inherited from Julia’s late husband who died in a car crash, which traumatized Henry who hasn’t spoken since the accident.

The abbey is undergoing renovation and turns out to be occupied by an evil spirit who easily gets to possess the young boy. Meanwhile, Fr. Amorth is reprimanded by a tribunal who questions his exorcising methods. He says he tries to establish first if a patient is really possessed or just having mental health problems.

It seems they resent that he performed his last exorcism rites without asking for permission first from the proper church authorities. But the Pope (Franco Nero) continues to believe in him and sends him to rescue the possessed Henry.

A local priest, Fr. Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto), tries to exorcise him but is not equipped to fight the evil inside the boy. Fr. Esquibel welcomes Fr. Amorth as he has heard of his exploits as an exorcist.

They form an unlikely team in their combined attempts to exorcise Henry, but the entity only mocks them as it exposes their past sins as priests, which involved women. It even gets to also possess Amy and not just Henry.

The two priests then explore the surroundings of the abbey and they find a way to an underground vault which has previously been sealed. Meantime, the Pope asks for documents about the Spanish abbey and suffers from a heart attack while reading them.

Amorth and Esquibel find a well with many skulls and skeletons in it. It turns out that the Spanish inquisition was started in the 14th century by an exorcist who was later himself possessed by evil and caused so many sinful abuses in the Church that time. The ecclesiastical authorities of that era then conspired to cover it all up.

In reading old books they found in the underground cavern, Amorth learns the true name of the evil spirit and this is a big step in combatting it. The film’s climax then shows the fierce battle between the two priests and the forces of evil.

For this length sequence, director Julius Avery (who did the action-horror film “Overlord”) really goes to town to come up with an all hell breaks loose finale, full of special effects where the priests are attacked by terrifying visions of the vengeful women they have wronged before.

Amorth wants to kill himself after the entity also possessed his body, but the evil spirit wants to use him as an instrument in infiltrating Rome to destroy the church authorities. The film ends with a hint that there will be more exorcisms for Amorth to perform. And since the movie made money in its theatrical release worldwide, we are not surprised that they are now doing its sequel.

The film will surely be scary for those who get to watch an exorcism film for the first time. But for us veterans of so many similar movies, it’s quite a pretty standard horror fare. What makes it different is Russell Crowe’s very committed portrayal of a real life practitioner of exorcism.

You can believe in his firm conviction that makes him capable of subduing the evil entity, which obviously has no idea that he was also Maximus, the Gladiator for which Crowe won the Oscar in 2000. Here, he offers his imposing physical screen presence mixed with a tongue in cheek delivery of some of his lines to add a witty touch of campy humor, offering an irreverent spin to the usual notion of an exorcist exemplified by Max Von Sydow as Fr. Merrin in the first movie.

The film is laudable in emphasizing some spiritual Christian values like the power of prayer, the virtue of love and the importance of sacrifice in fighting evil. We hope this won’t be lost on viewers who just want to get a real good scare. “The Pope’s Exorcist” may not end up a classic like the original “Exorcist” movie, but it is still a solid possession thriller with Crowe doing an excellent and terrific job in the title role.

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