Ever since The Exorcist hit our screens back in the 70s, films about demons and exorcism have become increasingly popular, but mostly lacking in originality. The Pope’s Exorcist is the latest film to take on this genre and surprisingly is probably the most unique take we’ve seen in the past few decades.
The film opens with Chief Exorcist for the Vatican, Father Gabriel Amorth (Russell Crowe), as he visits a man in a small village in Italy who is claimed to be possessed. Arriving on his Vespa, Amorth compliments a local farmer on his prize-winning pig and heads into the home of the man. He aggravates the purported demon possessing the man and brings in the farmer’s pig, provoking the demon into proving he can possess the pig and then shooting the animal dead.
Meanwhile, in Spain, Julia (Alex Essoe) has moved her two children Amy (Laurel Marsden) and Henry (Peter Desouza-Feighoney) from America to take possession of an old abbey belonging to Julia’s late husband’s family. The abbey is in a state of disrepair and Julia has employed a team of builders to help restore the abbey so she can sell it and move back to America with the proceeds. On moving in she’s welcomed by local priest Father Tomas Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto) while the children explore their new home. Henry heads down into the basement where he comes across a strange hole in the wall and soon begins to act incredibly strange, where the local doctors can find nothing physically wrong with him.
Back in Rome, Father Amorth has been called to the Vatican to answer for his earlier actions in the Italian village. He faces criticism and challenge from a number of the cardinals who wish him to vacate his position, however, the Pope (Franco Nero) has his back and instead assigns him to the case of Henry in Spain. The Pope advises Amorth that the abbey is known to the Church and as Amorth heads to Spain and partners with Father Esquibel, he realises there’s a great evil lurking in the abbey with sinister plans of its own.
I will admit that I’ve never been a big fan of exorcism films, even classics like The Exorcist, so I was rather sceptical going into this but I actually ended up very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. This is mostly down to the fact that The Pope’s Exorcist never takes itself too seriously. It’s full of unexpected jokes, quips and overall silliness, right down to Crowe’s Amorth riding around on a tiny Vespa with orange-tinted sunglasses. It’s outrageous and ridiculous and a hell of a lot of fun. It’s like a buddy cop film but with priests, and the relationship and chemistry between Amorth and Esquibel is a delight to watch.
Crowe is in his element here too, you can tell he’s having an absolute ball playing this whiskey-drinking, over-the-top priest. Even his Italian accent is surprisingly well done and he hits every note and line with aplomb. He really makes this film and without him, I don’t think this would have been half as enjoyable as it is. That said, the rest of the film is very well executed too. The cinematography and the setting are stunning, and aside from one questionable moment of CGI towards the end, it looks great. This also manages to subvert some of the standard tropes of exorcist films, with the opening exorcism and a rather bloody scene in the finale being especially standout and entertaining.
There are still some moments of cliché though, with the stereotypical traumatised family and rather irritating children, and some of the acts the demon undertakes while possessing people (such as contorting and crawling up the walls) are tired acts we’ve seen before. Surprisingly one of my biggest frustrations was with the voice of the demon, Ralph Ineson. He’s a fantastic actor with a very recognisable Yorkshire accent, but for me, his voice just seemed out of place with the setting and the situation. There was something about the northern accent alongside the Italian, American and Spanish that didn’t seem to fit, which for me as a northerner was rather a shame.
The Pope’s Exorcist may have done the unthinkable and converted me into liking exorcism films. It’s fun, hilarious and very entertaining, and Crowe is a standout. The ending also sets up a potential sequel and I’d definitely be up for seeing more of these buddy priests.
Where to Watch
A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!