The Pope’s Exorcist Is a Fun Possession Film

Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe, right) in Screen Gems’ THE POPE’S EXORCIST.

I’m a huge fan of possession and exorcism movies. I just love that kind of horror, and since I’m Catholic, these films’ religious themes often resonate with me on a deep level. So naturally, I was really looking forward to The Pope’s Exorcist. It looked like it had the potential to be really good, and after getting the chance to see it, I’m happy to report that I had a lot of fun with it.

The Pope’s Exorcist was directed by Julius Avery, and it stars Russell Crowe, Daniel Zovatto, Alex Essoe, Franco Nero, Laurel Marsden, and Peter DeSouza-Feighoney. It’s based on a real-life Catholic priest, Fr. Gabriel Amorth, who worked as an exorcist in Rome from 1986 until his death in 2016, but as far as I can tell, it’s not an adaptation of any particular case he worked on. Rather, it’s an original story that’s more inspired by his work than truly based on it, and it’s about a young boy named Henry who becomes possessed by a powerful demon.

At first, the kid’s mother takes him for a bunch of medical tests, but the doctors can’t find anything wrong with him. After medicine fails him, the local priest brings in Fr. Amorth to help the boy, and Fr. Amorth quickly discerns that this is in fact a true case of demonic possession. However, this demon is unlike anything these priests have ever faced before. To cast him out, Fr. Amorth has to dig deep into the Catholic Church’s history in that town, and what he uncovers there might prove to be more than even he can handle.

If that plot synopsis sounds a bit generic, there’s a good reason for that. On a narrative level, The Pope’s Exorcist is pretty much just another The Exorcist wannabe, and the similarities are almost painfully obvious. For example, the possession victim is a kid; the exorcism is performed by two priests—one older and more experienced and the other much younger—and the way Fr. Amorth finally defeats the demon is very reminiscent of what Fr. Karras does at the end of The Exorcist (although, to be fair, it turns out very differently).

Two priests
Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto) and Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe) in Screen Gems’ THE

So if you’re looking for a creative story that’s going to put a fresh twist on the exorcism subgenre, this isn’t the movie for you. Granted, Fr. Amorth’s investigation into the town’s history is a departure from what these films normally give us, but that one difference is far outweighed by all the similarities.

The story just isn’t the real draw here, but that’s okay. The Pope’s Exorcist makes up for its lack of originality in other ways. Most notably, the character of Fr. Amorth, played excellently by Russell Crowe, is an absolute delight. Crowe brings an irresistible charm to the role, and he made me love this character from the very first moment he came on screen.

He’s a really fun guy who likes to joke around and have fun, but he also has a serious side. You can tell he genuinely believes in what he does, but for him, Catholicism isn’t just about believing the right things or saying the right prayers. It’s about loving people and helping them to the best of one’s ability, and that intense devotion comes through in almost everything he says and does.

This great performance carries The Pope’s Exorcist from beginning to end, so even when the story hit its lowest points, I was always able to enjoy seeing Fr. Amorth go about his work. In fact, I’d even say it single-handedly saves this movie from the jaws of mediocrity. While Russell Crowe alone is worth the price of admission, everything else about the film is decent at best.

Take the other characters, for example. The performances here are all good enough, but nobody else in this movie is even remotely fleshed out. They’re all one-note walking plot points that feel like they’re only there to give Fr. Amorth people to interact with, so while I didn’t dislike any of them, they didn’t really add anything to the film either.

Two priests exploring
Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto) and Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe) in Screen Gems’ THE

I already mentioned the unoriginal story, so let’s move on and talk a bit about the horror in The Pope’s Exorcist. I never found the movie genuinely frightening, but director Julius Avery does a good job of crafting creepy scares that are at least fun for fans of this kind of horror.

That being said, I did have a big problem with some of the horror in this film. In particular, I thought the last 30 or 40 minutes completely jumped the shark. You always expect the final act of an exorcism movie to go big on spectacle, but this one just goes too far. It makes its demon way too powerful, and to be frank, that almost ruined the film for me. It simply strains believability to the breaking point (and that’s saying a lot in this kind of movie!), so if it had gone any further, it might’ve actually changed my opinion of the entire film.

Last but not least, I have to mention the final scene. The Pope’s Exorcist doesn’t have any hidden scenes during the credits, but the final moments essentially function like a typical Marvel post-credits scene. It sets up a potential Conjuring-esque franchise, and let me tell you, it’s absolutely ludicrous. I’m not going to spoil anything, but I will say that I thought the final scene was just terrible, so if that’s the direction the studio is thinking of taking this IP, I don’t want to see any more of these movies.

However, as a one-off story, I had a pretty good time with The Pope’s Exorcist. Sure, it has a lot of problems, but I think the good in it, especially Russell Crowe’s excellent performance, ultimately outweighs the bad. So if you’re looking for some good new horror to watch, I’d suggest giving this one a shot.

The Pope’s Exorcist is playing in theaters right now.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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