The Pope’s Exorcist


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At first glance, The Pope’s Exorcist is another tired venture into spiritual warfare led by another vaguely daft late-stage Russell Crowe performance. Yet, under the lazy scares and formulaic structure, there’s the beating heart of a genuinely fun B-Movie and the groundwork for a demonically daft franchise. 

Its 1987 and Father Gabriel Amorth (Russell Crowe), personal exorcist to the pope, scooter-rider, whisky-swigger, and all-round renegade priest is doing God’s good work. After a desperate American family (incl. Alex Essoe of Starry Eyes fame) reaches out for help, Amorth heads to their recently inherited home; an ancient Spanish monastery with a dark secret. 

Where critics (and clergy) ripped the film for mediocre scares and theological insincerity they perhaps leapfrogged the point. The Pope’s Exorcist isn’t aiming at the existential horror of The Exorcist. It doesn’t bother with that kind of pacing or tone and it certainly doesn’t seem preoccupied with gut-wrenching emotional terror. This isn’t a film indebted to the sanctity of its source, it’s a film very pointedly saying that the whole core concept is frankly ridiculous, and we should treat it as such. If the opening scenes and Crowe’s performance didn’t shout that loud enough, then Franco Nero (the OG Django himself) appearing as The Pope certainly should. 

Amongst the film’s writers you’ll find Jeff Katz (producer of Shoot ‘em Up and Snakes on a Plane, Michael Petroni (The Rite, Queen of the Damned), Evan Spiliotopoulis (Hercules, The Unholy), and of course Gabriel Amorth himself whose autobiographical books inspired the film. That’s before we even talk about director Julius Avery, known for his explosive Nazi Zombie extravaganza Overlord. This movie has been cultivated by people who have their tastes in the big, bombastic, sometimes-silly, often-tasteless, but (usually) entertaining world of modern B-Movies. 

Which is why it makes total sense to have Russell Crowe playing this off-kilter servant of God, growling in an Italian accent. He’s a rebel, a fool, and a critical thinker who’s all too aware that most possessions require a therapist not an exorcist. For some, Crowe’s casting will be preposterous (it is) but the tone of the whole film ends up flowing from his flirtatious, quipping, grizzled bad-cop priest.  

Avery gets the vibe but to his detriment plays things too straight for the first half. With the uncovering of an ominous sealed well and resultant revelations, things heat up allowing some of that rambunctious Overlord energy to burst through. Production designer Alan Gilmore conjures up decrepit medieval sets above and below ground gleefully giving the film a real flavour of medieval Gothic a la Hellboy or Tomb Raider.  

The Pope’s Exorcist is B-Movie on a big budget. The sets, Gothic mystery, huge historical conspiracy theories, big final act supernatural showdown, and the buddy cop angle, mark it a unique angle screaming for more. In its final scenes, The Pope’s Exorcist presents the potential for a franchise. A kind of supernatural James Bond scenario with the Vatican as MI6 and Amorth hunting globally dispersed demons down like they were SPECTRE agents. If they stuck with that big bonkers set-piece orientated approach, rich adventure horror atmospheres, and let Crowe read lines however the hell he wants to, it would be a world worth revisiting. 


Scott Clark 

Dir. Julius Avery 

Stars. Russell Crowe, Daniel Zovatto, Alex Essoe, Franco Nero, Peter DeSouza-Feighoney

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