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[Review]: The Exorcism

Another day, another Russell Crowe exorcism movie. It’s an oddly specific category of movie, but one that in its initial outing of last year’s The Pope’s Exorcist (2023) proved that it could work. So until the sequel comes out we have The Exorcism, directed and written by Joshua John Miller. Filmed in 2019, it follows Crowe as Anthony, a washed-up actor dealing with depression and the addiction that ruined his career and life, particularly his relationship with his daughter Lee, played by Ryan Simpkin. When he’s offered the chance to star in a high-profile exorcism movie he sees it as a chance at a kind of redemption. However, strange events have been happening on set, and the film’s subject matter digs up parts of Anthony’s past he’d prefer to stay buried. 

This is being built as a meta take on exorcism horror, but it’s not about that. The Exorcism is not about anything really. It certainly tries to be about things, too many things in fact, but ends with a half-hearted shrug. There's just so much confusion here about what kind of story is being told. The idea of it being meta doesn’t work because unlike films like Scream (1996) or even Miller’s previous film The Final Girls (2015), it doesn’t do anything interesting with the tropes and familiar elements of the genre. Is it a psychological drama about a man's metaphorical demons coming to light whilst making a movie that reminds him of his trauma? Not really since there are definitely supernatural things happening. Is it about a cursed movie as the poster and trailers imply? Also no, as apart from one mention about cursed movies and a script having ominous scribbles in it it's never brought up or explored. It's not even a mixture of the two where his metaphorical demons become literal ones as the demonic activity was happening before Tony even auditioned for the role. 

Something about this movie that can't be gotten away from is that Joshua John Miller is the son of playwright and actor Jason Miller who famously played Father Damien Karras in The Exorcist (1973). This brings a whole other layer to the text of the film as well as doubles its complications. Anthony is a clear stand-in for Jason Miller, who did deal with alcoholism and depression, even to the point that we see on his trailer that his surname is Miller. Should it then be taken that Lee is a stand-in for Joshua Miller himself? Is the director's repeated verbal abuse towards Anthony meant to be a reference to Friedkin's at times extreme measures to get reactions out of actors on set? There is also a certain resemblance between David Hyde Pierce and William O'Malley, the priest who was a technical advisor on The Exorcist as well as playing the role of Father Dyer. Is this intentional? And if everything is intentional and what Joshua John Miller is trying to do here is a kind of personal exorcism of his feelings towards his father, his father's personal issues, and his father's horror movie legacy, then none of that gets across and ultimately feels pointless.

Even if we ignore all that, just put it to the side and take the film simply as a horror movie, it fails there as well. There are attempts at interesting and creepy moments, but they have zero impact due to an absolute lack of atmosphere, bad dialogue, poor lighting, and clunky pacing.  It should be said that Crowe is likeable despite his mumbled delivery and there is a natural father/daughter chemistry between him and Simpkin; however, the majority of the supporting characters are there with very little development or purpose. At least alongside its flaws The Pope’s Exorcist had a sense of fun and its own silliness that made it enjoyable to watch. With The Exorcism there is nothing to latch on to and enjoy. It is a clumsy mess from beginning to end that tries to do many things and ends up doing nothing. 

1 Scream out of 5


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