The Reel Review
Father Gabriele Amorth, the Pope’s personal exorcist, is dispatched to a rundown abbey in Spain, after a child there is possessed by an unusually powerful demon, in this supernatural horror/thriller starring Russell Crowe. His character is VERY loosely based on books by the late famous exorcist, who himself was the subject of a 2017 documentary by The Exorcist director William Friedkin.
Overlord director Julius Avery brings some well-produced set design and some of his usual over-the-top action to this (homage?) knockoff of The Exorcist, which features a scooter-riding Crowe as our cocky, booze-swilling exorcist who cracks jokes when not sending demons back to Hell. Alex Essoe (The Haunting of Bly Manor, Doctor Sleep) is the freaked-out mother of the possessed boy, with Daniel Zovatto (Station Eleven, Don’t Breathe) as the less-experienced priest sidekick and Franco Nero rounding out the cliché-filled cast as the Pope.
Despite an impressive opening sequence generating hopes for a promisingly good Catholic church horror, that hope is lost by a third act that devolves into a predictable array of the usual blasphemy, levitating, body contorting, head-spinning and vomit spewing, along with some really hokey CGI. It’s not so much scary as it is silly – a couple of scenes in particular. Still, The Pope’s Exorcist is worth a watch just to see Crowe clearly having a blast chewing the scenery – sometimes literally.
• Father Gabriele Amorth, who died in 2016 at the age of 91 after claiming to have performed tens of thousands of exorcisms, used humor in his exorcisms, saying that demons, while enjoying irony, hate humor.
• William Friedkin, director of 1973’s The Exorcist, filmed what he claims was an actual 2016 exorcism Father Gabriele Amorth conducted just months before his death, in The Devil and Father Gabriele Amorth.
• The medal that Crowe displays in the film is the reverse image of the medal of St. Benedict, whose letters V R S N S M V – S M Q L I V B are a Latin prayer of exorcism against Satan that reads: Vade retro Satana! Nunquam suade mihi vana! Sunt mala quae libas. Ipse venena bibas! (Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! What you offer me is evil. Drink the poison yourself!)