I was lucky to be invited to a preview screening of The Pope's Exorcist, which is Sony Pictures Australia's latest film. The film was inspired by the actual files of Padre Gabriele Amorth, who was the Chief Exorcist of the Vatican for over 30 years until his death in Rome in 2016. He is played by our (and NZ's) very own Russell Crowe, The Pope's Exorcist follows Father Amorth as he investigates a young boy's terrifying possession and ends up uncovering a centuries-old conspiracy that the Vatican has desperately tried to keep hidden.
Russell Crowe has obviously relished the part of the renowned priest. He plays the role with patience, understanding and a little theatre. I think he was the best thing in the film, along with the super special effects. He has played real-life people before (for example, John Nash in A Beautiful Mind) but surprisingly he has never appeared in the horror genre until now. He is of course an award-winning actor and the recipient of an Academy Award Oscar for Gladiator. He is so versatile and you have to admire a man who barracks for the Rabbitohs!
Although it is ostensibly based on real events, it depends on how much faith you have and how much you believe in the Catholic Church's rites and rituals. The most unbelievable part wasn't the head-spinning and physical changes in poor young Henry, but that the Vatican which houses the repository for all things Christian, had redacted documents that even the Pope was not allowed to see. I found it shocking at times, gory and chilling. However, my goosebumps may just be attributed to the cinema's air-conů But there is also humour along with the horror and Russ Le Rock was obviously having fun with the character and cracking jokes to relieve the tension. Please note that the devil apparently doesn't like jokes.
The film's opening scene is set in Italy in the 1980s and cuts straight to the chase with all the classical signs of possession: writhing, foul language in a Satanic voice, and so on. You've seen it all before. Be prepared for some horrific scenes, but I guess that is what we horror fans go to see. The action moves to Spain - yes that place where the Spanish Inquisition was infamously conducted. You have been warned. It was mostly filmed in Ireland, but you'll recognise the Vatican and Rome.
The cinematography is terrific, as are the sets. The architecture of the spooky (haunted?), neglected and overgrown Saint Sebastian Abbey is fittingly Gothic. The cinema's surround sound was creepy as and I liked that the music was of the era rather than modern songs. For example, The Violent Femmes, and The Saints' "I'm Stranded". I also enjoyed the recurring motif of the red bird, ironically a "cardinal".
Be prepared to be deliciously disturbed and entertained.