Russell Crowe is a priest with no vespa in ‘The Exorcism

Infamously one of the most “cursed” movie sets of all-time, 1973s The Exorcist is a cinephiles dream for insane haunted film set stories. Whether it’s mechanical equipment weirdly malfunctioning, untimely deaths of crew members after production, or unsettling atmospheres while filming, these stories were told by The Exorcist actor Jason Miller (who played Father Karras) to his son, Joshua John Miller, who used these stories to create his own film, The Exorcism.

Anthony Miller (Russell Crowe) is an actor burdened by a past of addiction and troubled behaviours. But when a tragic on-set incident occurs to the lead actor of a horror film, it gives Anthony the chance to redeem his career in the face of his recent sobriety.

Anthony invites his estranged daughter, Lee (Ryan Simpkins) to the film set in an attempt to reconnect with his, but when signs of Anthony’s troubling past behaviour begin to reemerge, Lee must discover whether her father’s addiction is taken hold once more, or if this film set holds a more sinister power over him.

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Joshua John Miller’s close connection to the stories from The Exorcist seem as if they would make a fascinating screenplay, and the concept of this film plays around with the stories against an interesting backdrop of how an actor would react in those situations, while battling demons of his own. However, The Exorcism really only works in concept, as the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

The film often struggles with its tonal balance. The intense character drama it feels like it wants to be is only fleshed out enough to be at a surface level of substance. The relationship between Anthony and Lee starts the film of as the central story, and when the film should be developing their relationship more, the story shifts to the film set where the “jump scares” begin.

In between the scares, The Exorcism decides to introduce multiple characters and subplots, including a priest who is the film’s advisor, played by David Hyde Pierce, and an up-and-coming actress, played by Chloe Bailey, who befriends Lee, leading to a subplot about both characters bonding through the tension and exploring their sexuality. The number of plots introduced, but limitedly explored, bloats the film with elements that may have been more interesting if they were in their own films, but do not work together cohesively.

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After a shocking opening scene that sets up a solid expectation of the horrors to come, it is unfortunate that the majority of the tension and scares feel generic and don’t give the idea that some of these events could have possibly happened in real life. It gets to the point towards the final act of this film where a 3-2-1 countdown to each jump scare makes the horror entirely too predictable, before falling into overused possession tropes.

The cast attempt to do what they can with the screenplay, bringing far more engagement and authenticity to the dramatic elements of the screenplay, rather than the horror. Russell Crowe has this ability to convey so much pain in his face and vocal cadence that Anthony doesn’t feel like a caricature of addiction. Ryan Simpkins and Chloe Bailey have decent chemistry together, and their bonding through the tension of being on this haunted set, whilst dealing with their own complicated feelings is the primary reason their subplot is arguably the most engaging.

The Exorcism has the foundations of a film that should be a true hit for horror fans and cinephiles. Inspired by the true stories from the set of The Exorcist, it’s unfortunate that the horrors of this film fall flat with predictable jump scares and underwhelming tension. Alongside underdeveloped character drama, there’s just too many elements not working well enough together for an enjoyable time.

The Exorcism is in cinemas June 13.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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Infamously one of the most “cursed” movie sets of all-time, 1973s The Exorcist is a cinephiles dream for insane haunted film set stories. Whether it’s mechanical equipment weirdly malfunctioning, untimely deaths of crew members after production, or unsettling atmospheres while filming, these stories were...Russell Crowe is a priest with no vespa in 'The Exorcism'