The Friday Night Horror Movie: The Pope’s Exorcist (2023)

the popes exorcist poster

I love going into a movie completely blind. Not knowing anything about a film before watching it can lead to beautiful surprises. It can also lead to utter befuddlement and disappointment.

The only thing I knew about The Pope’s Exorcist before watching it tonight was that it starred Russell Crowe. Well, I knew it was a horror movie, and I was pretty sure it was going to involve some exorcism, but that’s it.

Honestly, I kind of thought it was going to be about the Pope getting demon-possessed and Russel Crowe was going to save him. I didn’t really think about the details of how that might work – how the head of the Catholic Church could get possessed – but it sounded kind of cool. It still does.

But no, the title refers to the fact that Russel Crowe’s priest – Father Gabriele Amorth, who was a real person – was hired directly by the Pope and would, in fact, be his personal exorcist were he to be possessed. But that doesn’t happen here. Instead, a demon possesses a little boy (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney).

Though Amorth was a real person and he was the official exorcist for the Diocese of Rome, the actual story is completely made up. Although one could easily argue it was mostly stolen from The Exorcist (1973). The boy does all the things demon-possessed kids do in these types of movies. He curses, he blasphemes, he sexualizes his mother, turns crosses upside down, etc.

There is also a mom (Alex Essoe) and an older sister (Laurel Marsden) and a tragic backstory (the dad was killed in a car accident, the boy saw it happen). But all of that is very bland and the film doesn’t really care about any of it.

Russel Crow plays Amorth like a jokester who carries a lot of pain. His performance reminded me of his character in The Nice Guys (2016). He periodically, though not often enough, lays down these great little sly jokes. I wish they’d leaned into that aspect a lot more. I rally wish I’d watched The Nice Guys again, that movie is terrific. Mostly this film is a very serious slog.

They don’t do anything new with the possession angle, but do spend a lot of time having Amorth and his newfound buddy Priest Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto) dig up the church’s sins (the Spanish Inquisition and the child abuse scandals) and blaming them on the devil.

It all concludes in a big sloppy, CGI mess that is as incoherent as it is dumb.

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