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The Pope’s Exorcist: How good is the horror film with Marvel’s Russell Crowe?

Since April 6, you can watch Russell Crowe exorcising demons in The Pope’s Exorcist. Find out here whether the film is convincing.

In “The Pope’s Exorcist” we see Russell Crowe, known as Zeus in “Thor: Love and Thunder” and Maximus in “Gladiator”, in the role of Father Gabriele Amorth. He was actually the official exorcist of the diocese of Rome from 1986 until his death in 2016 and is said to have performed an incredible 50,000 exorcisms during that time, according to his own information.

In the trailer, you can see Russell Crowe in action as Father Amorth:

THE POPE'S EXORCIST – Official Trailer (HD)

So actually a promising source for all kinds of shocking exorcisms of the devil, which could also provide exciting insights into the mechanisms of the Catholic Church and perhaps even trace the social change in dealing with the subject. Unfortunately, “The Pope’s Exorcist” doesn’t show us all that and as a horror film it couldn’t convince me either.

If you can’t make it to the cinema in time, you can already pre-order “The Pope’s Exorcist” for streaming on Amazon:

The Pope’s Exorcist: Entertainment yes, real horror no

Even though I wasn’t necessarily bored in the cinema: I wasn’t really creeped out for a second. The first important reason for this is that the film relies too much on Russell Crowe as a drawing card and neglects other crucial aspects that would lead to a horror film really gripping the audience.

Although Crowe’s Father Amorth entertains with his witty remarks and his slightly eccentric manner, he is often rather annoying with his know-it-all habit of reciting theological platitudes. And the fact that a movie exorcist gets along so completely without doubts about faith is somehow refreshing – because they have long since become just a cliché in exorcism horror – but doesn’t necessarily make for great character development.

But there are a few other reasons why the film didn’t work for me – and they have a lot to do with the problems of the genre itself.

Exorcism horror needs creative ideas – “The Pope’s Exorcist” doesn’t deliver them

The whole genre suffers from its severe limitation to a few themes. Even the choice of characters is more limited than in any other horror genre: We always need a priest as an exorcist and an innocent victim as a possessed person. That’s it in terms of scope for the main characters.

The typical effects of exorcism horror have also slowly but surely died out: Obscenities hissed in a demonic voice, limbs twisting and cracking, and the spewing of various bodily fluids probably don’t lure anyone out from behind the stove anymore. These effects shouldn’t be used as the main guarantor of horror, but rather to garnish an increasingly building tension with deliberately placed shock moments.

The shock effects in “The Pope’s Exorcist” come to nothing

For this tension, we need one thing above all else besides good timing: a relationship to the characters. One only has to take the prototype “The Exorcist” as an example: The transformation of Regan (Linda Blair) is so heartbreaking because the contrast to her previously shown personality is so extreme.

Warning: mild spoilers about “The Pope’s Exorcist” follow –

Unfortunately, “The Pope’s Exorcist” doesn’t succeed in doing just that: we’ve barely met little Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney), so it’s hard to really sympathize when he starts reeling off the well-worn signs of possession. His mother Julia (Alex Essoe) and sister Amy (Laurel Marsden) also remain quite clichéd and colorless.

The necessary timing is also missing: Henry’s obsession seems to appear out of nowhere, an arc of tension is almost non-existent. Yet the dilapidated abbey the family has just moved into would be perfect for various haunted house moments that gradually announce the obsession.

It doesn’t help when the effects are thrown out rather incoherently, only to unload towards the end in a special effects fireworks display almost reminiscent of an action movie. This makes the whole thing seem almost comical, and when Father Amorth and his sidekick Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto) mischievously look forward to their next adventures at the end, one almost has the feeling of suddenly sitting in a buddy comedy. Which in itself wouldn’t be a bad thing… but horror it just isn’t.

Instead of “The Pope’s Exorcist”: Watch these genre gems instead

So you have to get pretty creative to get something new out of the topic. “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” does this quite well, in which the tension between faith and science inherent in the exorcism theme is elegantly shifted to two legal parties. This creates a dual tension factor, as we are touched both by Emily’s suffering, shown repeatedly in flashbacks, and by the outcome of the legal proceedings.

The Rite” with Anthony Hopkins is well worth seeing, as is the German indie entry “Requiem” with Sandra Hüller. It goes without saying that devil exorcism fans should have seen the classic “The Exorcist” from 1973. If you’re looking for truly imaginative possession effects wrapped in an offbeat story that – a big exception in the genre – is carried by a strong female character, you’d be well advised to check out “The Devil’s Light,” which came out just last year.

So we don’t want to paint the devil on the wall for now: there is definitely still hope for exorcism horror. Still, one would wish that, say, a Jordan Peele or an Ari Aster would take on the subject for once and give it a really original twist. Otherwise, we can only hope that the Blumhouse sequel to the mother of all exorcism films, announced for October 13 of this year, can herald a true rebirth of the genre.

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