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‘The Pope’s Exorcist’ is sure to spook even the hardest of horror fans

The Pope’s Exorcist doesn’t need to do very much to impress horror fans. It is a film fully focused on possession and exorcsim, and that’s enough for full-on aficionados.

But the film spooks at just about every turn, even occasionally freaking you out, since the decrepit spirit within is that of the Devil himself. Roll up, roll up for lots of satanic fun, then.

The film is based on real-life events; keep this in mind as you’re watching priests being hurled around a small room and you might just shudder a little.

Considering this is the first ‘name’ feature by Australian director Julius Avery, the appearance of Russell Crowe doesn’t deter from a good storyline or great production value. And while shooting in picturesque locales like the Italian Vatican and Spanish countryside would make any film look epic, this truly is horror on a relatively grander scale.

Real-life exorcist to the Pope, Father Gabriele Amorth wrote several memoirs, two of which form the basis of this movie.

Russell Crowe plays Amorth as a jocular but forthright figure, which he likely was in real life, if only to live an existence as far removed from his day (well, night) job as possible.

Now, while the Catholic Church might do well to look at the horror that goes on among its ranks rather than the occasional demon that takes the body of one of its congregation, at least it’s trying to get rid of some evil.

Only 2% of Amorth’s callouts end up being for actual exorcisms; the other 98% are false alarms, or at worst some form of mental illness. In either case, Amorth uses a kind of ‘trans-possession’ where he gets an animal, such as a pig, and asks the evil spirit (or energy) if it can get inside a creature other than human. Then – bam! – once the demon is in the pig, the poor beast is killed and the bad spirit apparently gone.

As horror fans know, evil never really dies, especially when it is being dispensed by Satan himself. When one family moves into an old abbey in the Spanish countryside, they experience full well the chaos, wreckage and physical and mental harm that true evil is able to unleash.

This time Satan finds himself in the body of a little boy, but because this is the Devil we’re talking about, he can do many tricks including ‘multi-possessing’ – where he simultaneously takes on the body of the kid, his sister, and even the priest Amorth.

What distinguishes The Pope’s Exorcist from previous exorcism movies is the fantastic makeup and special effects which left this horror fan way impressed. The Exorcist‘s Regan MacNeil has got nothing on the contortions and fucked-up gestures these more modern victims unleash.

Mouths are pulled apart so wide, they make Pennywise look like a party clown. Limbs are contorted so bizarrely, you actually feel the pain in your own arms and legs.

Crowe’s acting is amicable as usual – lending a certain cockiness to a priest whom, given his Vatican connections, you’d assume would otherwise be all pompous-like. His Italian accent is also very good, compared to other actors that have gotten it wrong in previous Italo-English films (there’s a certain amount of Italian dialogue, paired with subtitles, of course).

While horror films rarely getting a look-in at the Oscars, this one just might due to the gravitas the ex-Gladiator brings to the proceedings. And if this film doesn’t get a gong for its acting or cinematography, it ought to at least be recognised for its astonishing makeup and special effects.

The fact that it is released on Holy Thursday… well, that’s something the Catholic Church might want to take umbrage with.

Antonino Tati


‘The Pope’s Exorcist’ is in cinemas now.

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