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The Pope’s Exorcist

Year: 2023
Production Co: Screen Gems
Studio: Sony
Director: Julius Avery
Writer: Michael Petroni/Evan Spiliotopoulos/R Dean McCreary/Chester Hastings
Cast: Russell Crowe, Daniel Zovatto, Alexandra Essoe, Peter DeSouza-Feighoney, Laurel Marsden, Franco Nero

This film sits somewhere between genuinely atmospheric and consciously dramatic possession/Satan movies like The Exorcist and The Omen and more commercial CGI slugfest thrillers like Drag Me To Hell, The Conjuring and Constantine.

It does so by being set in Europe with The Vatican as the focal point and what looks like an authentic character, the historic job description of an exorcist dispatched at the pleasure of the Pontiff of the day to solve or dispel claims of demonic possession around the world.

And would you believe it, it's actually based on a book by the official exorcist of the diocese of Rome who claimed to have performed tens of thousands of exorcisms... but who also told a film festival audience yoga and Harry Potter are satanic and evil, so take of that what you will.

Father Amorth (Russell Crowe, giving a better performance than I've seen him do for years) rides around Europe on a Vespa with his hat and bag of exorcism tricks, tasked with solving cases of possession by demons, most of which he can do by establishing mental illness.

He's smart, no-nonsense, has a sense of humour, rebellious and plays by his own rules, knowing that his closeness with the Holy Father (Franco Nero in some Tarantino-level stunt casting) assures his position even when the rest of the cardinals want him out because he represents the Catholic Church's sordid and superstitious past.

But when he's called to a crumbling, disused Abbey in Spain a young American family has moved into, Amorth meets his match. Young widow Julia (Alex Essoe) has inherited the place from her wealthy husband's family, and she's struggling with both her kids, angsty teen daughter Amy (Laurel Marsden) and preteen Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney), who hasn't spoken since his father died a year before.

When Henry finds a hidden chamber in the basement of the place the supernatural hits the fan, and the demon apparently locked inside by some black magic inhabits him, causing him to scowl, snarl and talk in the voice of a demonic presence as it insults, swears and threatens his mother and sister, demanding to see Amorth himself.

The local priest, Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto) is at a loss, and Amorth is dispatched from Rome to investigate.

It's all got to do with the dark history of the Catholic Church, a paranormal presence that wants to finish the torturous work of the the Spanish Inquisition and, in classic Hollywood tradition, this time it's personal, with previous moral failures that weigh on each mans' conscience coming back to haunt them as they battle the presence that's taken control of the boy.

It has an appropriate and appreciable mood of old world religious mystique like The Omen did, and the script and direction both make room for levity and scares, even if it does descend into a orgy of videogame-inspired VFX at the end. It's also good to see Russell Crowe enjoying himself so much.

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