‘The Pope’s Exorcist’ – Review

With nothing ground-breaking for the genre, The Pope’s Exorcist feels like The Conjuring mixed with the occasional 21 Jump Street vibes.

From director Julius Avery, The Pope’s Exorcist (based on the memoirs An Exorcist Tells His Story and An Exorcist: More Stories) tells the story of Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe) and his journey from Vatican City to the San Sebastian Abbey in Spain to help a family whose son (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) has been possessed. Joined by Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto), the two do everything in their power to exorcize the demon away from the Abbey, all while trying not to fall for its tricks by feeding on their greatest sins.

The standout of this film that helps carry it from beginning to end is Russell Crowe as our lead exorcist. Crowe is an enjoyable presence on the screen as much of his supporting cast do not add much during their scenes. Captivating during his exorcisms with a lot of heart during his more emotionally moving scenes, Crowe was a joy to follow along and pulls the movie up when it starts to fall flat. Zovatto’s performance grows as the character begins to develop throughout the film, making him a great second to Crowe. Ralph Ineson also joins the cast as the voice of the demon, another great addition that elevates the scenes he is in. The main family we focus on has a lot of potential to bring in their personal trauma but mother Julia (Alex Essoe) and daughter Amy (Laurel Marsden) are just there as stereotypical horror characters, screams and all.

Even though Crowe is the shining light of the film, he is not given much to work with. The screenplay moves so quickly through its plot points that it seems to forget some along the way. There are a lot of interesting themes of trauma and how it affects our everyday lives, no matter if it happened a few days ago or a few years ago, but only Crowe’s fear is the central point of the film. Being able to focus more on the family and their trauma that led them to the Abbey all the way from America could have been an interesting exploration, especially with the backstory of the possessed son. There are also a lot of times when the film tries to tell us what is going on with the major themes instead of allowing the audience to follow along or find clues along the way. 

The writers seem like they want the audience to figure out the mystery on their own but do not give them the opportunity to do so before they explain everything in a few moments of exposition dumps. As you try to figure out why the demon is focusing on this specific location and why, they tell you too soon as the pieces are almost there. If there was a little bit more from the side characters instead of just focusing on Crowe’s character, it could have been so much stronger and pulled it away from similar films before it.

The film’s biggest fault is that it does not know what type of movie it is trying to be. The opening scene makes it seem like the film takes place in a time period different from the one that appears on the screen, but has an immediate tone switch to match the time period that was introduced to us. The tone of the movie is all over the place and at times, it is hard to keep up with why certain things are happening.  In one moment, Crowe is pouring his heart out trying to do his job as an exorcist and the next he is making side jokes with Zovatto.  

This film does not know if it wants to try to be a typical kind of horror film or a Bad Boys/21 Jump Street buddy cop film with Crowe and Zovatto. If the film leaned into the more humorous side it seemed like it wanted to, it could have been a really interesting take on the genre that has not really been done before. The quick shift in tone makes it hard to latch on to what the film is trying to say, pulling you out of the experience with what is taking place.  But at least they set up the possibility of many, many sequels.  

While it can be enjoyable if you are looking for a basic horror film with a real-life person behind the story, The Pope’s Exorcist does not try to stretch far beyond the general genre tropes. With lacking performances and a confusing script, there is not much to gain from the film.

Grade: C

Oscar Prospects:
Likely: None
Should be Considered: None

Where to Watch: In Theaters

Jessa Hay
she/her @jebbahay7
Lives outside of Boston with her boyfriend and dog, a lover of films, Broadway and books.
Favorite Director: Wes Anderson
Sign: Sagittarius

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