The Pope's Exorcist

The Pope's Exorcist

2023, R, 103 min. Directed by Julius Avery. Starring Russell Crowe, Alex Essoe, Daniel Zovatto, Franco Nero, Pablo Raybould, River Hawkins, Ryan O'Grady.

REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., April 21, 2023

All hail Julius Avery. In 2018, the director released Overlord, a World War II horror film that combined Nazi experimentation and underground combat to great effect. Overlord suggested that Avery held a unique gift for crafting delightfully silly art from serious artists. That film also demonstrated a confidence in production design and staging that went beyond most second-tier horror titles. And with The Pope’s Exorcist, Avery has proven that his eye for over-the-top horror was hardly a one movie affair.

Despite his role as the Pope’s personal exorcist, it is said that Father Amorth (Crowe) refers 98% of the cases he investigates to psychiatrists and mental health clinics. Unfortunately, Julia (Essoe) and her family happen to fall into the remaining 2%. When Amorth is sent to Spain to investigate the alleged possession of a young boy, he is paired with Father Esquibel (Zovatto), a young priest with a clouded soul. Together the two men must discover the secrets of a vengeful demon or face the very destruction of the world itself.

For The Pope’s Exorcist, Avery and company have stripped the exorcism movie down to the elements that really matter. A possessed child and their family? Required, but don’t give them any more backstory than is absolutely necessary. Complicated mythology about secret organizations within the Catholic church? Essential viewing. Much of the fun comes in the historical retellings and the grand set designs of the family chapel. The Pope’s Exorcist even has the gall to retcon the history of the church, which is the kind of pop punk theology that either endears you to the movie or turns you off it forever.

And at the center of it all is Crowe’s Amorth. After years of playing the Hollywood heavy, it is delightful to see the Oscar-winner chew through the scenery as he did in the earliest days of his acting career. Father Amorth presents as something of an apostolic Fox Mulder, and Crowe finds just the right balance in embracing the humor in the role but not treating it as a joke. Even his language selections – moving between Italian and English as a sign of disrespect – becomes a fun grace note in his hands.

The full effect is an unserious movie handled with consummate craft. In decades gone, movies like this would dominate the shelves of our local Blockbuster for months on end, but those days are long gone. In a world of blockbuster franchises and micro-budget horror – where movies above a certain budget seem to justify their own expense by adopting a detached irony – The Pope’s Exorcist is the kind of goofball sincerity so many of us hunger for. It’s not going to work for everyone, but if you are the kind of viewer who ends up on its wavelength – by god, what a ride.

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The Pope's Exorcist, Julius Avery, Russell Crowe, Alex Essoe, Daniel Zovatto, Franco Nero, Pablo Raybould, River Hawkins, Ryan O'Grady

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