The Movie Waffler New to VOD - THE POPE’S EXORCIST | The Movie Waffler


The Vatican's chief exorcist uncovers a centuries old conspiracy.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Julius Avery

Starring: Russell Crowe, Daniel Zovatto, Alex Essoe, Franco Nero, Laurel Marsden, Ralph Ineson

The Pope's Exorcist poster

Many women and quite a few men would agree that there's no hotter man than a hot priest. Stick an average looking bloke in a black shirt and white collar and he's suddenly transformed into an unattainable object of lust. Similarly, nobody is cooler than a cool priest. We expect priests to be stuffy and boring, so whenever we encounter one with a sense of humour and a modicum of personality it makes them seem like the most charismatic soul we've ever met.

As played by Russell Crowe, Father Gabriel Amorth is one cool priest. He swills whisky before battling demons, flirts with nuns, makes wisecracks, ruffles the feathers of church authorities and rides around Rome on a vespa while dressed like Orson Welles in F for Fake. I mean, he's a bloody exorcist, and not just any exorcist - he's the Pope's exorcist!!! It doesn't get any cooler.

The Pope's Exorcist review

If Amorth's name sounds familiar to horror fans it's likely due to his being the subject of a William Friedkin directed documentary, The Devil and Father Amorth, which detailed the priest performing one of the many exorcisms of his three decades long career as the Vatican's numero uno demon fighter. Amorth was something of a maverick, threatening to expose the church's sins, but he was also a bit of a crank, once claiming that Yoga and Harry Potter books served as gateways to Satanism.

Crowe's Amorth is very much a maverick, and there are moments where he even hints at his church's wrongdoings, few of which had been exposed in 1987, when this story takes place. But his more negative aspects are swept aside to allow Crowe to play the priest as a charming rogue in a collar. Crowe has benefitted greatly from what I like to call the Depardieu Effect, which sees an actor become more interesting as their waistline expands. Here he resembles a papal Pavarotti, his great frame spilling over the sides of his scooter like two satchels filled with ham.

The Pope's Exorcist review

There's a soothing, ASMR-like quality to watching Crowe ride around on his Vespa, but it's when he's interacting with others that Crowe really gets to have fun hamming it up. No maverick priest trope is left unused as Amorth storms into a Spanish abbey where a newly arrived American woman's (Alex Essoe, repeating her Shelley Duvall schtick from Doctor Sleep) young son (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) has become the latest target for possession. The kid takes on a sickly visage that gives him the appearance of a 10-year-old Dario Argento and spouts obscenities with the voice of Ralph Ineson.

As is always the case in these movies, the demon gets under the skin of our priest hero by bringing up some long festering residual guilt. This time it's a young girl Amorth failed to save from possession. The demon also targets Amorth's obligatory handsome young sidekick priest, Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto), mocking him as a "panty sniffer."

The Pope's Exorcist review

It all leads to the inevitable climax of theological theatrics, but director Julius Avery goes over-the-top with bayonets drawn, introducing exploding naked babes and gates to Hell. Most exorcism movies fail due to misguided attempts to ape Friedkin's classic, and inevitably end up as dull, ponderous slogs. Avery seems more content to mimic the sort of Exorcist knockoffs that came out of Italy and Spain in the '70s, all operatic blood-letting, gratuitous nudity and oddball protagonists. It's a refreshing approach that saves what is otherwise a standard exorcism thriller from fading into the overcrowded market. It's pure trash, but it's happy to be trash, and crucially, it seems to enjoy its trashiness.

The Catholic church usually understandably steers well clear of endorsing movies like this, so it's surprising to see that The Pope's Exorcist is executive produced by high-ranking Jesuit priest Father Edward J. Siebert and backed by the production wing of Loyola Marymount, a Jesuit university in California. The movie's resolution suggests the assembling of a team of crack exorcists, a sort of Vatican Avengers, so might we see more Catholic hijinks from this group? This made me wonder what it might be like if Catholic priests began following the lead of those American Protestant pastors who bring their congregations to see the latest faith-based movie after Sunday service. Can you imagine Father O'Reilly and 47 old dears rolling out to see The Pope's Exorcist after Sunday mass?

The Pope's Exorcist is on UK/ROI VOD now.

2023 movie reviews