The Pope’s Exorcist Review: Crowe leads a very entertaining exorcist flick
Overlord director Julius Avery and Russell Crowe team up for a new supernatural exorcism horror film, The Pope’s Exorcist, that might struggle to stay fresh, but ultimately ends up being very entertaining.
The film is based on the memoirs of the Vatican’s former Chief Exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth (Crowe), and follows him as he heads to Spain to help a family’s young son who has become possessed by a demonic entity. As he arrives, Gabriele is hesitant to believe that something truly sinister has possessed the boy, but soon realizes that there are darker forces at play. Gabriele begins to see that the demon has plans of its own for him and that the request for him to come was no coincidence. Now with the help of a local priest named Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto), Gabriele must uncover the truth behind this demon as well as dark parts of the Church’s history to defeat it.
The Pope’s Exorcist is another clear sign of the resurgence of supernatural faith-based exorcist stories, but not exactly a refreshing one. This horror subgenre has felt a little too familiar lately with its recent offerings and The Pope’s Exorcist can’t avoid falling into the same patterns. The film’s R-rating definitely helps the film stand out through its blend of body horror and suspenseful exorcism sequences, but it does ultimately use the same tricks and formulas we’ve seen time and time again. The way it attempts to twist reality isn’t all that memorable and its demonic entity isn’t characterized in a fresh or all that unique way. The film mostly just relies on standard jump scares and shocking imagery to terrify viewers but doesn’t show enough inventiveness and creativity with its scares to be an effectively scary watch.
Overall, the story doesn’t really do anything outside of the norm either. It rarely finds ways to subvert expectations or take the story in a direction that isn’t how viewers expect this priest versus demon showdown to go. Even for The Pope’s Exorcist simply just being the norm of this subgenre at its core, the film manages to outweigh its lesser qualities with how entertaining and engaging it is.
Even with the scares not being all that strong, Avery’s direction still crafts some incredibly fun horror sequences. As said before, the film does have a decent helping of body horror, suspense, and blood – a genre concoction that results in some immensely fun exorcism sequences and demon antics. With how wild and unnerving the demon’s power can be in crucial moments, you do get a sense of its evil and it makes it have a much more daunting presence. The film’s atmosphere and set design add to the haunting nature and the catacombs Gabriele and Esquibel stumble into are very creepy. So, even while Avery might not bring a lot new to the table with the scares, he’s able to utilize old tricks for familiar fun.
Crowe’s performance as Gabriele also makes the film incredibly fun to watch as he’s genuinely a real character. Pretty much from the opening moments, Crowe brings some great charm to the film and acts as a great light-hearted thread throughout the film’s dark horrors. There’s just this delightfully goofy nature to Gabriele acting like a bit of clown in the Vatican and riding around on his little scooter through Italy that you can’t help but love. Crowe brings this fantastic energy to the film that makes Gabriele’s one liners and rivalry mindset with this demon super fun to watch, and horror fans will likely come away loving Gabriele in the same way most love the Warrens in The Conjuring films.
Along with the comedic charm that Crowe brings, he’s also able to still maintain a sense of seriousness that doesn’t suck out the dark parts of the film’s story – which helps make the tragic parts of Gabriele’s personal arc more emotional. Also, it’s worth noting that Zovatto puts in a great supporting performance as well and fans will love the sort of companionship that evolves into a fulfilling partnership between Esquibel and Gabriele.
Most surprising though is that even for The Pope’s Exorcist’s predictable story beats, there are still some cool and interesting parts to the narrative that keep it engaging. The connections found between the Catholic Church and this demonic entity add more intriguing history behind the evil plans that are unfolding and the buried secrets behind this case. The genuine likeability of Esquibel and Gabriele makes you more invested in their intertwined personal arcs and their end together definitely feels satisfying enough to make you want to see more of their story together. Plus, there are some solid story turns that add more stakes to the tenser moments and deepen the film’s hook into you because of how wild things can get as the demon attempts to tighten its grip on the characters. In short, The Pope’s Exorcist has plenty of elements that make it a very fun horror ride with some good lore-building and story moments.
At its core, The Pope’s Exorcist might be a little stale in a sub-genre that’s becoming incredibly overloaded, but there are enough strengths that come from Crowe’s easily loveable performance, Avery’s solid direction, and the story ideas that make it a very enjoyable horror flick.
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