Movie review: 'Pope's Exorcist' is familiar yet still disturbing

Fred Hawson

Posted at Apr 20 2023 02:10 PM

Russell Crowe stars in 'The Pope’s Exorcist.' Handout
Russell Crowe stars in 'The Pope’s Exorcist.' Handout

An American woman Julia (Alex Essoe) went to Spain with her two children, a rebellious teenage daughter Amy (Laurel Marsden) and younger son Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney). Julia's husband had died in a car accident and bequeathed to his family an old abbey in Spain. Julia was trying to restore the abbey, but the work was suspended when a fiery accident occurred. Suddenly, Henry became stricken with bizarre behavior.

Fr. Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe) was the personal exorcist of the Pope (Franco Nero). A committee was reviewing his exorcism activities, and the American cardinal Sullivan (Ryan o'Grady) in particular was very antagonistic against him. To diffuse the tension, the Pope sends Amorth to help in the case of Henry in Spain. A local priest Fr. Tomas Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto), who had no exorcism experience before, was there to assist Amorth. 

For sure, this film has all the tropes commonly seen in all demonic possession films that preceded it -- the possessed person is an innocent child, his medical tests all come out normal, the possessed child speaks in a deep distorted voice and in different languages, the body of the possessed gets tortured and assumes unnatural positions, a local priest and a higher expert are called in to perform the actual exorcism and ask the demon its name.

However, this new film also expanded on the psychological torment inflicted by the demon on the two priests, Amorth and Esquibel. It kept on taunting them about their own sins in their past or present, coincidentally both involved women. Another remarkable difference about Crowe's exorcist was his penchant to do jokes even when dealing with the demon. Lest we find this humor corny, Amorth warns us that "the devil hates jokes."

We have already seen way too many exorcism films to find all this very scary, but some images were still very disturbing, like that of a demented young woman putting a live red cardinal bird into her mouth. 

Like "The Da Vinci Code'" (2006), the history of the Catholic Church itself was also drawn into the plot as the brutal Spanish Inquisition was brought up. Interesting too that a promise of a franchise was even suggested at the very end.

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."