Review of The Pope’s Exorcist: Russell Crowe’s Horror Movie Rules, Play Sequels

There are few things better than a well-made horror film that knows exactly how silly it needs to be, here’s why The Pope’s Exorcist absolutely rules. Yes, the movie where Russell Crowe plays an Italian exorcist who reports directly to the Pope himself is great. A silly movie that’s actually good (vs. ironically funny) is awfully hard to come by, so when Crowe’s character saves the day and is then told there are 199 more exorcisms he needs to perform to save the world, I got fired up. We should all pray that every possession has its own movie.

At this point, teasing sequels and a wider universe of world-threatening demons smacks of a franchise and a big IP. But for The Pope’s Exorcist it feels more like the light world-building of the John Wick franchise, constantly pushing its boundaries and letting you know there’s more to it than what our hero has encountered this time around. And in the case of Crowe’s father, Gabriele Amorth, the things he will encounter are simply servants of Satan and denizens of Hell, sent to fight God and make the world a slightly more evil place.

Father Amort is the main exorcist of the Catholic Church and deals with its most complicated cases. The film does its best to assure us that Father Amorth is a rational and thoughtful man, mostly recommending psychological help to the supposed possession victims he visits, rather than actually performing exorcisms or dealing with real demons.

So when Amorth finds himself facing the most powerful demon he’s ever seen in a derelict former abbey in Spain, it comes as a big surprise. Amort’s shock and the significance of the exorcism is heightened when he stumbles upon a vast satanic conspiracy that has been hidden for hundreds of years and could threaten the entire world – an objectively great plot twist that would make any movie better. Each of the film’s revelations feels like a natural—and appropriately silly—next stop for the story, or a bit of color for a world the film doesn’t bother explaining.

Photo: Jonathan Hession/Sony Pictures

But the clever world-building only works because director Julius Avery is giddy to indulge in silliness. The exorcism genre has gone stale in the past few years – take the latest film The Conjuring for example – but The Pope’s Exorcist playfully pulls plot threads from The Exorcist, the timeless hero and its sequels. It includes a few nice nods to the underappreciated Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist, in the idea that Father Amorth is extremely confident in his faith, rather than the image of a man in a robe questioning God that other series often use. Both to his colleagues in the Vatican, who doubt a failed exorcism, and to the literal king of hell, Father Amorth is absolutely convinced that God will save him, whether through the faith of his conviction or through a precise knowledge of the correct prayer for each demon fighting situation.

The big surprise is that The Pope’s Exorcist is extremely well made, with consistently creative shots and sets from Avery, who has previously turned B-movie material into something wildly entertaining. (See: 2018 supreme lord.) The scares are exciting and inventive as Crowe cranks up his Italian accent to full prosciutto. And by the time the demons do arrive, they look and sound great – the latter thanks to the reliable, husky voice of The Green KnightRalph Ineson.

The Pope’s Exorcist it doesn’t match the deep terror or cinematic heights of the original Exorcist, but it excels by building the entire film on the understanding that its entire premise is a bit silly — and it’s never afraid to lean into that fact, as when Amort reminds a jury of Vatican colleagues that if they have a problem with him, he can discuss it with his boss (the Pope). It’s well-made and takes its scary moments seriously, but approaches every scene as an opportunity to let the audience have fun, be it through scares or jokes. It fits perfectly in the mix with the knowing horror of the joke of films like M3GAN and A barbarian, which is a welcome change for the sick and stuffy exorcism genre. So bring on the demons; Father Amorth has 199 exorcisms to perform and I think a sequel to each of them is exactly what we deserve.

The Pope’s Exorcist is now in theaters and is destined to become the #1 movie on Netflix in a few months.


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