The Pope’s Exorcist – Film Review

Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe) is a contentious figure in the Roman Catholic Church.

A veteran of World War II who has dedicated his life to do unto others and to rid the Earth of evil in all its forms, Amorth performs exorcisms of vile demons tormenting the innocent. Often these demons are little more than mental illnesses and psychological in nature but every so often they are something more sinister.

Amorth is in no way a popular man at the Vatican where various higher ups find his brash behaviour unacceptable. But as a close friend to His Holiness the Pope (Franco Nero), the only man he feels the need to answer to, Amorth‘s position as an exorcist is secure.

His Holiness sends Amorth to San Sebastian Abbey to investigate the alleged possession of a young boy named Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney). Henry, his mother Julia (Alex Essoe) and sister Amy (Laurel Marsden) are Americans currently in Spain tasked with the restoration of the Abbey. Amorth discovers that not only is this possession genuine but it is rooted to a dark secret buried by the church for centuries.

The Pope’s Exorcist comes based on true life exorcist Gabriele Amorth and is inspired by two of his many books, ‘An Exorcist Tells His Story’ and ‘An Exorcist: More Stories’. Passing in 2006 at age 91, Gabriele Amorth founded the International Association of Exorcists and claimed to have performed tens of thousands of exorcisms throughout his career.

Exorcist movies unfortunately can be extremely cliché ridden and for a large part, this film doesn’t shy away from them. Flickering lights, shaking beds, lightning flashes, a snarling foul mouthed double jointed little kid etc. This film checks all the boxes. All of this is fine for fans of horror but it is when The Pope‘s Exorcist strays away from conventions that I found myself really loving this film.

The plot of director Julius Avery’s earlier movie Overlord started out as standard WW2 fare before turning into ultra-violent sci-fi. Although not quite such an extreme tonal shift here, as the plot thickens, it becomes something more akin to a supernatural Dan Brown thriller. I think this subversion of the exorcism/demon possession formula is what keeps The Pope’s Exorcist so interesting.

When compared to his brethren, Russell Crowe’s rendition of Father Amorth is quite unorthodox (pun somewhat intended). Both being something I don’t often see in a priest type character but also highly different from roles we’ve seen from Crowe in the past. Amorth is at times foul-mouthed, vain and a drinker. But none of this is done in excess and he is still undoubtedly a good man. It’s also amusing seeing Crowe travel about on quite the undersized little scooter.

Russell Crowe is backed up by a decent supporting cast not the least of which being the legendary Franco Nero whose charisma makes even his small role shine. Making an impressive debut is the young DeSouza-Feighoney who gives The Exorcist (1973)’s Linda Blair a run for her money being corrupted and befouled more and more as the film goes on.

The special effects make-up and visual effects on display here are effective as well. With the later ends of the film being where director Julius Avery really seems at his gory spectacular best. 

The Pope’s Exorcist is an exciting horror thriller which delivers on exactly what we expect from the exorcism subgenre. It is elevated surprisingly well by the star power of Crowe and Nero. Taking what could have been a cheesy throwaway B-grade movie and giving it a strong mainstream legitimacy. As a potential franchise starter, The Pope’s Exorcist makes for one hell of a great time.

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