The Pope’s Exorcist Review

The Pope's Exorcist
The year is 1987. The religion is Catholicism. Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe) is gainfully employed as the Vatican’s chief exorcist. When a child in Spain is apparently possessed by a demon, Amorth must team up with a younger priest (Daniel Zovatto) to renounce Satan and all his works.

by Catherine Bray |
Published on
Release Date:

14 Apr 2023

Original Title:

The Pope’s Exorcist

Imagine a buddy cop movie in which a grizzled maverick detective, whose quippy exterior masks a past trauma involving a shoot-out gone wrong, is paired with a rookie cop on a new case turning out to involve corruption going to the very heart of the establishment. Oh, and he’s also in trouble with those pencil pushers up at city hall who have no time for his unorthodox methods. Got it? Okay, now imagine it’s not cops, it’s priests. In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, you are now watching a buddy priest movie.

Russell Crowe has a lot of fun playing the eponymous exorcist, and director Julius Avery’s movie essentially stands or falls by how on board you are with this central performance, which requires Crowe to speak in either Italian or Italian-accented English throughout, and recalls that bit in The Simpsons where Homer fantasises about living the life of an organised crime boss (“Molto bene!”). Attention, Universal Studios: next time you decide to reboot Super Mario Bros., don’t call Chris Pratt, get Big Russ and his little scooter on board.

This papal pulp fiction is too daft to experience with anything other than amused incredulity.

The rest of the cast are of variable quality (shout out to the porcine performer whose presence enables Crowe to below “possess the pig!”), but there’s no denying Ralph Ineson (The Green Knight) as the voice of Asmodeus the demon, and there’s definitely a certain logic to casting Franco Nero (star of dozens of gialli and poliziotteschi films) as the Pope. Still, it’s essentially the Crowe show, and engagement tends to sag when he’s not around, nor are the majority of the narrative beats surprising if you’ve seen at least one exorcism film before. There’s perhaps one image that doesn’t feel cribbed from the canon, and in the interests of avoiding spoilers, we’ll simply say “nude blood explosion” and leave it at that. At least the filmmakers have had the decency to assemble a nice little 1980s playlist for the soundtrack with an appropriate faith-flavoured feel to it (choice cuts include The Cult’s ‘She Sells Sanctuary,’ ‘Gone Daddy Gone’ by Violent Femmes and ‘We Care A Lot’ by – who else? – Faith No More).

It could be argued that the film functions as an endorsement of the questionable career of the real life Father Gabriele Amorth, a man who denounced yoga as Satanic and claimed to have performed over 70,000 exorcisms during his career, mostly on women, who he believed were more vulnerable than men because “the Devil wants to use them to get at men like Eve did to Adam”. If the film wasn’t so hugely ridiculous, the script’s repeated positive references to Amorth’s autobiographical works might leave a sour taste. But ironically for a film that’s sorta, kinda about belief, this papal pulp fiction is too daft to experience with anything other than amused incredulity.

It’s not just the demonic possession victims whose eyes will be rolling back in their skulls – none of this should work, really, and yet the film just about gets away with it, proving the Lord truly does move in mysterious ways.
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