Review: The Pope’s Exorcist


Original horror movies are back, and The Pope’s Exorcist is not one of them. A vague rip-off of 1973’s The Exorcist full of half-baked emotional arcs, The Pope’s Exorcist is a movie that isn’t worth your time (unless you’re my mom and you’re Russell Crowe’s biggest fan).

THE POPE'S EXORCIST – Official Trailer (HD)

The Pope’s Exorcist
Director: Julius Avery

Release Date: April 14
Rating: R

I was not intending on seeing The Pope’s Exorcist. In fact, I actually had tickets to see Ari Aster’s Beau is Afraid. Just my luck that the theater I went to was having a fire emergency and no other theater was playing it. I decided not to waste my trip or ticket and went to see The Pope’s Exorcist instead. Hoping for an eerie possession film, I was disappointed with the overall effect of the movie.

The premise of The Pope’s Exorcist is rather simple. Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe), a real exorcist, is the Vatican’s personal exorcist. He is brought to Spain to help a family dealing with a powerful possession that threatens to tear them apart. Amorth, along with the help of local priest Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto), uncovers the demon’s true identity and its plan to infiltrate the Catholic Church.

The Pope's Exorcist

Russell Crowe in The Pope’s Exorcist. Sony.

While this is a basic enough storyline for a film about exorcisms and possession, The Pope’s Exorcist‘s plot and themes quickly begin to deteriorate. Unlike The Exorcist, which The Pope’s Exorcist makes many visual and story references to, the traumas that inform each character feel underdeveloped. Aside from Amorth, they are never even fully understood by the characters. Possessed son Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) is deeply traumatized by witnessing the brutal death of his father, which leaves him vulnerable to possession but the film hardly even addresses this. Neither Henry nor his mother and sister get any sort of development or closure. Their characters serve as mere plot devices for the demon to possess. But why include this horrific trauma?

During the film, I kept thinking of Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook. The 2014 horror film processes grief and trauma from terrifying to something that a mother and son can live with. I think a key difference between these films is that The Pope’s Exorcist treats trauma as something to banish versus something that intrinsically changes people’s lives. The Pope’s Exorcist’s treatment of traumatized characters makes them all feel one-dimensional. This isn’t the worst thing about the film though.

Russell Crowe in The Pope's Exorcist

Russell Crowe in The Pope’s Exorcist. Sony.

I think the oddest part of The Pope’s Exorcist was its absolution of the Catholic Church. During Amorth and Esquibel’s investigation of the Abbey where Henry’s possession takes place, they discover the demon’s purpose. The demon had possessed an exorcist who later started the Spanish Inquisition, one of the most atrocious acts committed by the Catholic Church. The Church covered this up, trapping the demon instead of exorcising him fully. I think the film’s rewriting of history, combined with its limited ability to discuss the other sins of the Church, attempts to take the blame from the Catholic Church and assert that the evil came from elsewhere. By making the Church a (willing) bystander instead of a perpetrator, this film misses a huge chance to come to terms with the horrible history of the church and creates some very confusing politics regarding sin.

Easily the best part of The Pope’s Exorcist is Russell Crowe. His language work is good and his mannerisms as Amorth were really charming. He easily outacted everyone in the entire film, giving a solid performance to a film that didn’t deserve him. I would love to see him do a role like this in a better-written film! Other than him, the film fell flat and isn’t memorable in the face of so many other amazing possession films.

The Pope’s Exorcist is now playing in theaters.




The Pope's Exorcist is the latest in thinly veiled rip-offs from older, greater horror classics, leaving much to be desired.

Sophia Schrock
Sophia (they/them) currently lives in Jersey City, NJ. They are passionate about queer cinema, horror, anything gothic, and their beloved cat Salem.