THE EXORCISM Strikes a Sinister Mood – But is That Enough?

Upon seeing a cassocked Russell Crowe scowling on the red and orange-hued marketing materials of The Exorcism, opening in theaters today, viewers might ask themselves two questions: Is this a sequel to last year’s The Pope’s Exorcist? And if it’s not, what possessed the actor to headline another unrelated exorcism movie?

Upon seeing the film, though, I can see how this might have appealed to him. Crowe went from an actor playing a priest in an exorcism movie to an actor playing an actor playing a priest in an exorcism movie. It’s a bit meta, in a self-referential way. (update: Since writing this I’ve learned that The Exorcism was actually shot before The Pope’s Exorcist – which does nothing to demystify this situation).

Occult-themed movies often have stigmas or rumors of being cursed (something that anyone who’s stepped foot on an excorcism film set is surely aware of), and The Exorcism explores the idea of a cursed film production.

Crowe plays Anthony Miller, a washed up actor trying to find his groove and revive his career after a years-long slump marked by alcoholism and the death of his wife. After clawing his way out of the bottle and trying to repair his fractured relationship with his teenage daughter Lee (Ryan Simpkins), he’s ready to stage his comeback by starring as a priest in a new exorcism movie, even scoring Lee a spot in the crew as a PA so they can work together. But despite his best intentions, Anthony’s grasp on reality quickly slips as he pours himself into his role in the supernatural thriller.

Unfortunately the film, directed by veteran actor Joshua John Miller, is a rather dour and dimly lit affair, deeply moody and atmospheric, but in a way that’s overall kind of languid and dull. The film does go to some scary, unsettling, and violent places, but rarely in a way that feels “fun” (more often, these events strain credulity with non-sequitur narrative logic). I generally felt a little impatient with it – despite a relatively short 93 minute runtime.

But there’s stuff I liked as well. The film’s finale felt a little long in coming but I enjoyed the climactic payoff and the way it plays out. The cast is good, and I especially liked seeing David Hyde Pierce play one of the cooler characters, a priest who’s working on the film production as a consultant and gets caught up in the spiritual warfare. The film has a sub-current acknowledging and condemning sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, but the story is also spiritually reverent and faith-affirming in its own way – a perspective I found somewhat refreshing.

And when a bearded Russell Crowe puts on a suit coat and thick-framed bug-eye glasses? He looks just like Guillermo del Toro – almost to where I believe it had to be intentional – and that kind of made me chuckle.

A/V Out

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