Tuesday 2 May 2023

REVIEW: The Pope's Exorcist (2023) - Starring Russell Crowe

Review by Jon Donnis
I have probably seen every single religious based horror film made in the last 40 years. I am a big fan of the genre, and I had been looking forward to seeing this as not only am I a fan of horror but also Russell Crowe, this film is based on a real person in Gabriele Amorth, an Italian Catholic priest and exorcist of the Diocese of Rome.

The film starts off in 1987, a man named Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe), who is the personal exorcist of the Pope, visits an Italian village where a man is believed to be possessed by a demon.

Gabriele Amorth is a simple, humorous, and practical man who rides a classic Lambretta scooter. Together with the local priest, he enters a room where the man is tied up, he performs an exorcist ritual and uses a Saint Benedict Medal to exorcise the demon, and trick him into possessing a pig, which is subsequently killed with a shotgun. However, Amorth's acted without permission from his superiors which gets him in trouble with a Church tribunal, which includes members like a sceptical American Cardinal Sullivan (Ryan O'Grady) and the friendly African Bishop Lumumba (Cornell John). Amorth defends his actions, stating that he did not perform a true exorcism but rather used psychological theatre to help the mentally-disturbed man. Amorth is not pleased with the tribunal and walks out.

Later, the Pope (Franco Nero) assigns Amorth to visit a possessed boy named Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) in Spain. Henry, along with his mother Julia (Alex Essoe) and rebellious teenage sister Amy (Laurel Marsden), had travelled from America to take possession of a mysterious old Spanish abbey that was left to them by Henry's father after he died in a car accident in which Henry was also involved, and sadly saw his father impaled. The traumatized Henry has not spoken since the accident. After workmen who were restoring the abbey left due to a fire, Henry begins behaving strangely. Various tests and MRIs at the hospital showed nothing physically abnormal, and his condition is put down to psychosis.

When a possessed Henry requests a priest, the local Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto) arrives, but Henry has no interest in him and requests another priest. Amorth arrives and enlists Esquibel as an assistant, Esquibel has heard of Amorth, but has not read any of his books, and has little real exorcism experience.

What follows is your classic tale of demon possessing a child, and an exorcist fighting against the demon and trying to save the day.

Now this kind of story has been told many times before, and although this film is full of your classic possession cliches, it is done so well, that I was totally absorbed by the film from start to finish. Even though the film is about 95 minutes long, I never looked away or got distracted once, which is beyond rare for me.

Russell Crowe keeps up a perfect Italian accent throughout, and is totally convincing as Gabriele Amorth. The visual effects are incredible, the story is well written and well directed. Peter DeSouza-Feighoney does an incredible job as Henry. In fact, everyone in the cast does great.

Even the ending I thought was well done, I was expecting the usual "twist" which I was going to moan about as being too obvious, but it happily never came, and instead left a great opportunity for more Gabriele Amorth stories to be told. I have no idea if they will make more films, but I would love it if they would.

This was a great religious based horror film, that truly had everything any fan of the genre would want.

The Good
Barely will ten minutes go past while watching a film that I will get distracted, check my phone, or just check out, but in The Pope's Exorcist they got me from the first minute to the last. I absolutely loved this film. Just a wonderful piece of horror. A true stand out in the genre, that I already want to watch again, and I never say that!

The Bad
I would have perhaps liked a bit more history of the old Spanish abbey that the film is set, but to be honest I am just grasping at anything to put in "The Bad".

This was my favourite horror film of the year so far, nothing comes close. It is easily in my top 5 religious based horror films of all time, Stigmata is number one for anyone curious, The Exorcist, Carrie and The Omen take up slots in that top 5, I reckon that The Pope's Exorcist is right there with those classic films. Only time will tell if it gains the kind of cult following those films have, but I loved it.

If you are a fan of horror films, and especially religious based horror films, then you must watch this, easily the best in its genre of the last 10 years at least.

I score The Pope's Exorcist a near perfect 9.5/10

Out Now in cinemas and on Digital at https://apple.co/3noEnhC