Half a century ago, the release of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist caused controversy and created a whole new horror subgenre. Since then, countless movies exploring possessions have been released, but 2023’s The Pope’s Exorcist is the first to star none other than Oscar-winner, Russel Crowe.
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Directed by Julius Avery, the film is loosely based on the writing of the late Father Gabriele Amorth, who spent decades serving as the Vatican’s Chief Exorcist (as unbelievable as that sounds). As it turns out, the late father was a fan of the 1973 horror classic.
The Pope’s Exorcist review
The Pope’s Exorcist features Crowe playing Father Amorth as a practical, humorous, and witty man of faith who gets around on a Lambretta scooter, that’s comically too small for his frame. In the first scene, we catch a glimpse of Gabriele’s unusual working methods after he convinces the demon that may or may not be possessing a teenage boy to take hold of a pig’s body.
It’s a funny scene showing how quirky the character is before we learn it’s getting him in trouble with the Vatican’s higher-ups, a group of younger Bishops who don’t believe in the existence of evil. The real challenge for our hero comes when The Pope himself (played by Franco Nero) sends him to Spain, where a young boy is showing signs of possession.
The boy’s name is Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) who has temporarily moved from the U.S. to a decrepit Abbey in Spain with his widowed mother, Julia (Alex Essoe), and annoyingly rebellious teen sister, Amy (Laurel Marsden). Henry stopped talking altogether after witnessing his dad’s death in a horrific accident, and Julia hopes to restore the Abbey and sell it as it’s the only asset left behind after her husband’s death. While the reason for moving her kids across the ocean into a centuries-old Abbey makes little sense, the filmmakers needed a reason for the American actors to speak English without trying to pull a fake Italian accent.
Upon his arrival at the Abbey, Amorth meets with the local priest, Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto), and gets to work trying to defeat the powerful demon that took over young Henry and turned him into a foul-mouthed, deep-voiced ghoul. This particular demon feeds off people’s sins (or guilt), so the two priests find themselves confessing their biggest sins.
Russel Crowe’s performance makes this film worth watching. The way he plays Father Amorth enhances this film from a mediocre horror flick to potentially iconic. There are layers to the character, despite his uncanny ability to hide behind inappropriate humour and a secret stash of Whiskey. Unfortunately, the rest of the performances fall flat, especially Alex Essoe as Julia.
While this is supposed to be a horror movie, the terrible CGI makes scenes meant to be terrifying, bordering on ridiculous. Sure, there’s a foul-mouthed demon, the quintessential unnatural head spin, and people are levitated and thrown across the room more times than we can count. But it’s all too over-the-top and almost impossible to take seriously.
Overall, The Pope’s Exorcist is an entertaining horror flick, and fans will probably love it. It’s campy and silly and tries so hard to be scary that it might make you chuckle in the process. Crowe’s performance is brilliant, and the end’s set-up suggests a sequel (or 10) might be in the works. However, you might want to skip the theatre release and wait until it’s available to stream.
How accurate is The Pope’s Exorcist?
The film is very loosely based on the life of a real-life exorcist, but the whole story presented is completely fictional. It’s not historically accurate in the slightest, nor does it depict any of the real cases Father Gabriele Amorth wrote about.
Who is The Pope’s Exorcist based on?
The Pope’s Exorcist is based on Father Gabriele Amorth, who served as an exorcist for the Catholic Church until he died in 2016. Amorth wrote several books describing his work. He founded the International Association of Exorcists and was the subject of a documentary by William Friedkin.
Lori C. is an entertainment writer who studied Film and Television at University. She watches and reviews films and series from most genres, but some of her favourites include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, The Handmaid’s Tale, Westworld, and True Blood.