in Shocktober

The Pope’s Exorcist (2023)

The Russell Crowe funny accent era is here and I love it. Just a little while ago, Crowe was cast in Thor: Love and Thunder to play Zeus with the same vaguely English accent he used in Gladiator a couple decades ago. Crowe protested this and eventually got his way by agreeing to shoot every scene in the movie twice, once with a “faux upper-class” accent and once with an hilariously over-the-top, effete Greek accent. Boy, sure sounds like the production of that movie went great, doesn’t it? Anyway, he won in the end and I guess not satisfied with one huge swing, Crowe went and made another one: he gave himself just two months to perfect an Italian accent for The Pope’s Exorcist. And that performance once again elevates an otherwise forgettable film.

Father Gabriele Amorth was a real man who really was an exorcist for the Diocese of Rome and had a reputation as “the James Bond of exorcisms.” He wrote a bunch of books before he died in 2016 and Sony’s subsidiary Screen Gems bought the rights to them and I guess saw franchise potential so here we are. Crowe plays Amorth as a drinkin’, swearin’, Vespa drivin’ rock star priest who doesn’t have time for papal bureaucracy. Which is cool because he’s the best, most experienced exorcist they’ve got and also a close, personal friend of The Pope. Not a specific pope, mind you, even though the movie is specifically set in July 1987 so we know it’s Pope John Paul II. Instead we get Pope Franco Nero, a cool dude who likes to go read ancient texts in empty churches filled with lit candles, which isn’t what I think the real pope does but it’s always cool in movies.

While Amorth is busy kickin’ ass, we fly over to Spain where an American woman named Julia (Alex Essoe) has just been bequeathed an old abbey by her late husband. That’s a totally normal thing, just inheriting an ancient, decrepit church on another continent, happens all the time. The husband died a year ago in a car accident that also left their son, Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) mute. Amy (Laurel Marsden), their teen daughter, is there too and is being totally rebellious, but not in a “has a subplot” kind of way, more of a “this is her character” way. Julia plans to have the three of them stay at the abbey until she can flip it and move the family back to the States, because apparently she doesn’t have any money but also does have enough to renovate this whole situation? Don’t think about it, doesn’t matter. What does is that the construction workers accidentally unearthed a spooky part of the abbey which causes them all to get hurt by a fireball and quit – without realizing they’ve unleashed an evil that has taken possession of Henry! Local priest Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto) is no match for the evil inside Henry, which is why he reached out to Rome for backup.

The pope dispatches Amorth to Spain, who arrives with a bunch of swagger but quickly realizes he’s met his match with the demon that’s possessed Henry. You can tell it’s serious because the demon speaks through Henry with the voice of Ralph Ineson, who, by the way, is having an amazing 2023. So Amorth is forced to team up with Julia, Amy, and Esquibel to try to uncover the mystery of the abbey so that they can save the boy. And this is where the movie started to lose me, and I’m not sure it’s entirely its fault. We’ve all been watching a lot of exorcism content this month and at this point I’m pretty familiar with the beats of this story. You’re not really going to see anything you haven’t seen before in The Pope’s Exorcist, except for maybe this one part when a bloody naked lady ghost explodes? That was pretty cool, it made me laugh when it happened. But mostly it’s just Russel Crowe’s performance that makes this movie fun, which is a shame coming from director Julius Avery, who also made the delightful Overlord back in 2018.

That said, I’m not even sure I should cast any aspersions at anyone involved in the production of this film because on paper I’m not sure how it got made at all with the time they had. Russell Crowe was cast in June 2022 and principal photography began in October. The Pope’s Exorcist was widely released in April of this year, meaning all of production, post-production, and marketing took less than a year. For a movie with a budget of $18 million and a special FX-heavy finale… That’s crazy to me! We’re really making movies like this that fast now? And this is Sony planning on starting a series too, the whole ending is just franchise set up (and a sequel supposedly is in production, or at least was pre-strike). You ask me, it’s a miracle this movie even makes sense.

Anyway, The Pope’s Exorcist is fine. Like Colin said about The Conjuring movies, despite this being based on a real guy, the events depicted here are so over-the-top it’s hard to take it seriously at all. Like if this is to be believed, the survivors of this story would have some real, concrete evidence about the existence of demons, and hell, and god, and all sorts of massive church coverups. Which would be a pretty big deal. Ah well, we’re all just trying so have some fun. And what could be more fun than the fact that this, with Russell Crowe’s hilarious accent, lost at the box office to The Super Mario Bros. Movie, with Chris Pratt’s way-to-safe American accent? Mamma mia!