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The Pope’s Exorcist (Movie Review)

REVIEW OVERVIEW

The Film

SUMMARY

Based on the true story of legendary Vatican exorcist Father Gabriel Amfoth, this film recalls some of the horrors of demonic possession.

Fifty years ago, director William Friedkin and screenwriter William Peter Blatty collaborated on a movie that many viewers at that time considered to be the scariest film they had ever seen. The Exorcist skirted and occasionally crossed the boundaries of religion and heresy as it unfolded the cautionary tale of a young girl who became possessed by a demon that two Catholic priests successfully exorcised albeit at great personal cost for each of them.

The Pope’s Exorcist is not a remake of its predecessor since it is based on a collection of stories written by Father Gabriele Amorth, here portrayed by Russell Crowe. Father Gabriel claimed to have performed more than 30,000 exorcisms, one of which occurs at the film’s beginning when he causes a demon to leave a man it has possessed and to enter a pig that is immediately killed. At the Vatican tribunal that follows, this unauthorized exorcism is criticized by Cardinal Sullivan (Ryan O’Grady) who scoffs at the notion of demonic possession as Amorth abruptly excuses himself from the proceedings.

As the personal exorcist of the Pope (Franco Nero), Amorth’s next assignment takes him to rural Spain where the recently widowed Julia Vasquez (Alex Essoe) is living in a deserted Spanish abbey, accompanied by her narcissistic teenage daughter Amy (Laurel Marsden) and young son Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) who has not spoken since being in the car accident that killed his father. The abbey is the only thing Julia’s husband’s estate left her and she has workmen trying to restore the old structure so it can be sold. A fire breaks out causing the workers to leave, and when Henry starts to behave erratically, he asks for the local priest, Father Tomas Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto).   Father Esquibel arrives and Henry curses him but when Amorth enters the abbey, he keeps the young priest on as his assistant. The two priests fail in their attempted exorcism and when the Pope reads the correspondence he has received about Henry’s case, he faints and gets admitted to the hospital.

  • Russell Crowe in The Pope's Exorcist (2023)
  • The Pope's Exorcist (2023)
  • Russell Crowe in The Pope's Exorcist (2023)
  • The Pope's Exorcist (2023)

Amforth explores the abbey’s grounds and finds a well that leads him to a long-sealed off chamber where he finds the remains of an priest-exorcist who was an original member of the Spanish Inquisition. This priest became possessed and wrought numerous evil deeds within the Church that were later concealed. As Amforth discovers the real name of Henry’s demon, he and Esquibel undergo mutual confessions and absolutions for their sins before undertaking another and hopefully more successful attempt at the boy’s exorcism.

Screenwriters Michael Petroni and Evan Spiliotopoulos have given director Julius Avery a fairly compelling story aided by a large group of special effects artists led by Paul Byrne that is especially noteworthy for the gruesome transformation of young DeSouza-Feighoney into a miniature monster manipulated by the evil spirit Asmodeus.  Daniel Zovatto presents a good dramatic foil for Russell Crowe whose often over-the-top performance holds this film together and makes it worth seeking out. While the two priests fare considerably better than did their original Exorcist counterparts, this newer version never quite reaches the considerable literal and figurative heights of its predecessor that received stunning lead performances from Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair and Jason Miller.  Ironically, director Friedkin’s last completed final project was a documentary, The Devil and Father Amorth,  about an exorcism performed by the late priest. Exorcist fans will surely find enough to enjoy in this one if not quite up to what Friedkin and company gave us half a century ago.   


The Pope’s Exorcist is available now on various VOD and Digital platforms. Originally released in theaters in the U.S. April 14, 2023.


  • Rating Certificate: R (for violent content, language, sexual references and some nudity)
  • Studios & Distributors: 2.0 Entertainment | Loyola Productions | Ad hoc studios | Intimacy on Set | Screen Gems
  • Country: USA | UK | Spain
  • Language: English | Italian | Spanish
  • Run Time: 103 Mins.
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
  • Director: Julian Avery
  • Written By: Michael Petroni | Evan Spiliotopoulos
  • Release Date: 14 April 2023 (Theatrical)
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Based on the true story of legendary Vatican exorcist Father Gabriel Amfoth, this film recalls some of the horrors of demonic possession.The Pope’s Exorcist (Movie Review)