The Exorcism – Film Review

Exorcism movies will never die and studios are never going to stop making them. Some are perfect films, some are awful, and one has Russell Crowe as an Exorcist riding a vesper, The Exorcism isn’t any of these. Director, Joshua John Miller does have a very close link to the Exorcist (1973), his father Jason Miller played Father Karras in the film, that’s about as close as this new film comes to the horror classic.

Russell Crowe plays Anthony Miller, an actor now disgraced and having just got his life back together after struggling with alcoholism, but things look like they might be getting better when he’s cast as the priest in the re-make of a classic horror movie. His daughter, Lee (Ryan Simpkins) has recently been expelled from school and despite her reluctance over his sobriety, Lee helps her dad rehearse and to make sure he doesn’t slip into any previous bad behaviours.

It doesn’t take long for the spooky stuff to start happening, Miller’s behaviour starts to get more erratic, leading to his daughter and colleagues thinking that he might have started drinking again. This bait and switch have been done in a really bizarre way where every other character has more than enough reason to believe that Miller might have relapsed.

The film they are re-making is heavily implied to be The Exorcist, and the “curse” in this film within a film, mirrors the real world curse, a research hole that Miller falls into completely, increasing his weird behaviour. It’s when the on-set catholic advisor, Father Conor (David Hyde Pierce) starts believing Miller has become the target for possession, from a demon with a very silly name, it’s here that The Exorcism really loses its way in what film it wants to be.

The Exorcism stops trying to be any form of character study that could have higher stakes and becomes CGI jump scare frustration. There seems to be a potential for the film to scare without a big musical sting telling me to be scared, there are compelling character arcs to the story, but they’ve been sacrificed for cheap jump scares.

Miller’s daughter Lee is the equivalent to Chris MacNeil in The Exorcist, but Lee isn’t given that level of character depth. Simpkins’ acting ability could have handled that kind of material, but this scary movie’s scary characters be damned!  This is what make The Exorcist a frustrating watch, it’s not a bad film, it’s a film shoehorned with horror clichés so we don’t forget were watching a scary movie, and of the performances are bad, but none are great either. Crowe isn’t having as much fun as in his other horror film Pope’s Exorcist, but this particular new movie isn’t as fun.

The Exorcism is more a frustrating film than a bad one. I didn’t find myself waiting for it to end like you might with some bad films, or laughing at how bad it is. I was frustrated by all the stupid musical stings used to scare me, especially when dialogue would make it seem like this was something we were supposed to be taking seriously.

At the end of the day, The Exorcism is a big shame because there is potential in the script and the bones of the idea to be a great film. The production design and cinematography are stellar, the production design in particular being a standout with the sets being like doll houses that audience can peek into. It’s a just shame they’re too good for this film. I’m sure there’s some interesting behind the scenes and production conflicts that lead to the confusing mess of tone here.

Now, if Joshua John Miller releases a director’s cut of The Exorcism, I won’t ignore it. But this movie is a mess of what could have been a great one.

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