Review – The Pope’s Exorcist

Some thirty-ish years ago a much younger version of myself snuck into the family lounge room in the early hours of the morning destined to watch the scariest movie of all time. While I thought nothing would scare me I was way too young to realise what I was about to put myself through would somewhat scar me still all these years later. I tell you this little story to let you know that when it comes to movies or any media to do with Exorcisms or religious paranormal experiences, I devour as much of it as I can.

In a small village in Europe Father Gabriele Amorth (Russel Crowe) visits a family that has been stricken with fear after they believe that their son has been possessed by the devil. After a quick meeting with the boy Amorth quickly realises something else may be at play here and decides to perform an “exorcism” using a pig and a shotgun…

Elsewhere in Castile, Spain, Julia and her two children Henry and Amy, are moving into the old and run-down St. Sebastian Abbey twelve months after the sudden and tragic death of their husband/father in a vehicle accident. Broken and looking for a way to carry on, Julia believes the restoration and sale of the abbey that has been in her husband’s family for generations is what is needed for the family to move back home to the USA and make something of their future. The abbey has a dark and sordid history unknown to the young family but quickly believed after an accident with some of the workers hired to renovate the abbey and Henry suffering a seizure that doctors couldn’t explain.

After the local priest Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto) gets rag-dolled by the boy, the Vatican is contacted for some assistance and knowing there is something more to this abbey the Pope himself sends Father Amorth to investigate what is happening.  

The Pope’s Exorcist is based on the best-selling memoirs of Father Gabriele Amorth. One of the most famous and respected exorcists of the modern-day Catholic Church. He held the very real title of “Chief Exorcist of the Vatican” for 36 years penning books and research on his experiences of tens of thousands of exorcisms. From my own research on Amorth, he seemed to be a fiercely intelligent man who prided himself on his faith and from accounts of those closest to him he had a wicked sense of humour that kept him grounded in such a dark vocation. Russel Crowe’s performance as yet another true-life character I cannot fault. His very Australian delivery of some of the more light-hearted moments played into Amorths reputation but not expected. This is Crowe’s first lead in a horror movie, his performance gives the character a certain presence to him that demands your respect from the moment he first appears on the screen.    

The Popes Exorcist started off as a very familiar exorcism-focused film. I felt at times I have seen this all before. Scratching and thudding on walls, and dodgy wiring leading to flickering lights the tried and trusted tropes of this genre. It is not until Father Amorth arrives at the abbey things take a turn in a direction I didn’t expect. Father Amorth is forced to use his investigative skills and work out what this demon wants  After coming face to face with the demon Father Amorth is forced to look within and investigate the site to find out what has been hidden as St. Sebastian’s for so long.

It’s here that my slight addiction to the subject was thoroughly fed. We dive deep into the motivations of these demonic entities, uncovering a secret history the church tried to have buried. We see some of the most challenging aspects of one’s faith and how it can help or hinder you when forced to face the sins of your own past.

Visuals and score set the mood perfectly throughout. St. Sebastian’s is dark and foreboding even though it was once a house of God. The transformation of young Henry played by Peter DeSouza-Feighoney in his first movie role, was downright disturbing with some not so subtle nods to movies of the past. The score was perfectly weighted to create a level of tension that didn’t want to let you go relying on building upon your own fear rather than going for the straight-out jump scare.

Here, I bring you back to my opening statement about young Pat and his poor decision to watch The Exorcist before I was ready to. I consume so much media revolving around not only exorcisms but religious paranormal phenomena mainly for its history but because it is the only type of media that gives me a fear response. A true primal fear response that is unfortunately becoming very few and far between. Thankfully there were some moments that gave me exactly what I wanted from the horror perspective within the final act, funnily enough it was as the layers of the story were peeled back revealing some very intense themes.

The Pope’s Exorcist is not going to be for everyone. After all it is a horror movie and one based upon a very specific part of the Catholic Religion.  While some moments were overly familiar and certain outcomes were projected well before they happened the story unfolded in a way that I was not expecting with some very particular moments to really question what it is you know about good and evil and is it as black and white as we like to think it is.

The Pope’s Exorcist is out now in cinemas, well worth your time catching it on the big screen with big sound.  

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