The San Sebastián Abbey, the sole asset of Roberto Vasquez inherited by his wife upon his tragic death, she and their children relocating to the Castile region of Spain in an attempt to restore it and sell the rambling Gothic property for a profit, Julia not helped by resentful brat Amy or Henry who has not spoken a word since he survived the accident which claimed the life of his father but who now begins to exhibit inexplicable symptoms.
The doctors unable to ascertain a cause for Henry’s affliction, Father Tomás Esquibel attends but is unable to help, sending instead for Father Gabriele Amorth, the most experienced priest in these matters within the Vatican, a man known as “the Pope’s Exorcist” who has undertaken hundreds of such endeavours but who is surprised with what he finds in the grounds of the Abbey and in his first meeting with Henry.
Inspired by the writings of the real Father Gabriele Amorth, founder of the International Association of Exorcists, The Pope’s Exorcist feels less like a film of supernatural horror with a voice and viewpoint of its own than an attempt by Sony to initiate their own franchise similar to Warner’s Conjuring films, capitalising on the failure of The Mummy to launch the “Dark Universe” by poaching that film’s Doctor Jekyll, Russell Crowe, and engaging him here in a similar capacity to explore the light and the dark he might brought to that dual role.
The eccentric but driven character of Father Amorth allowing Crowe to play a contrarian outsider within the Catholic Church, refusing to capitulate to those of more reserved orthodoxy and making the novice nuns jump, he jokes with Daniel Zovatto’s Father Esquibel but is prepared for the coming fight, wandering around the gloom of the Abbey apparently lit only by thirty watt bulbs and opening the ancient seal on a skull-lined well which leads to catacombs dating to the Spanish Inquisition.
Overwrought from the outset, the prelude seeing Father Amorth called to village where the entire population have come to witness his performance, The Pope’s Exorcist feels like an entertaining karaoke performance of familiar hits, adequate but limited by a resistance to originality as it presents the requisite messages in Henry’s scars and the accompanying distorted animalistic roars provided by The Witch’s Ralph Ineson and the unnatural contortions of those possessed by demonic forces.
Directed by Julius Avery displaying restraint similar to that of his Nazi bloodbath Overlord, as the secret shame of the history of the Abbey sealed in the Vatican records is uncovered by Franco Nero’s Pope and lights flicker and fail with a regularity somewhere between alarming and tiresome, like the panel which questions Father Amorth about his undertakings The Pope’s Exorcist feels misguided in its intent, as though it was created by committee whose grand idea was to assemble their product entirely around existing motifs, somewhat akin to the way Christianity historically appropriated existing mythologies.
The Pope’s Exorcist is on general release now