The Austin Chronicle

The Vatican Tapes

Rated PG-13, 91 min. Directed by Mark Neveldine. Starring Michael Peña, Olivia Dudley, Dougray Scott, John Patrick Amedori, Djimon Hounsou, Kathleen Robertson, Michael Paré.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., July 24, 2015

Once again, the crucifix is out and the holy water is a flyin’ in The Vatican Tapes, a slapdash of exorcist-movie cliches dressed up as a cautionary tale about the Big “D” slouching toward Bethlehem waiting to be born. Forget Pazuzu or any of those second- or third-tier devils you’ve seen in other demonic possession flicks – we’re talking the antichrist here, the Prince of Darkness himself manifested in the form of a bland and blond young woman resembling the actress/director Sarah Polley (Dudley). It all starts off so innocuously: At her surprise birthday party, Angela (the irony just drips from that not-so-subtle name, doesn’t it?) accidentally cuts herself and goes to the emergency room for stitches, where the hospital’s Catholic chaplain Father Lozano (Peña, looking like he wants to be anywhere but in this movie) takes an interest in her case. Later, while riding the bus, a huge raven crashes through the windshield and pecks the wound on her bandaged hand, after which all hell literally starts to break loose. An intentional head-on car crash, a comatose two months in the same hospital (enter Father Lozano, again), a miraculous recovery tainted by subsequent strange behavior, institutionalization in the loony bin, homicidal and suicidal mayhem, and the inevitable rite of exorcism all illogically follow. Meanwhile, back at the Vatican …

The film industry’s seemingly insatiable appetite for this worn-out genre is confounding, given there are only so many ways you can tell this story without repeating nearly verbatim elements of the 1973 granddaddy of them all. As a result, movies like The Vatican Tapes are by nature sloppy and derivative, seeking to evoke a thrill that’s long gone. Director Neveldine (Crank, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) films the proceedings as if following a playbook, employing a mishmash of cinematic styles to telegraph a foreboding that never materializes. The scenes set in the sacred archives of the papacy betray the film’s relatively low budget, further diminishing what little credibility the movie may have. And then there’s that damn black bird, its shadow hovering over everything to signify the presence of evil, flapping away almost laughably as one inexplicable thing happens after another. The Vatican Tapes ends with the prospect of a round-two showdown between the Church and Lucifer Unbound in a sequel. Let’s pray otherwise. Quoth the raven: Nevermore.

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