The Exorcism

What happened to Russell Crowe’s career? The Oscar-winning actor was once an A-lister who got offered top roles in works from great directors. Now he’s making low-rent junk like Land of Bad, Sleeping Dogs, and The Exorcism. In fact, this latest misfire is Crowe’s second bad demonic possession-related thriller in the last year, coming on the heels of 2023’s The Pope’s Exorcist. He’s still immensely talented and a welcome screen presence, but he perhaps needs to have a little chat with his agent. And, please, for the love of mankind, stop making movies about exorcisms.

Crowe plays Anthony Miller, an actor whose career went to seed due to his alcoholism and depression over his wife’s death. His estranged daughter Lee (Ryan Simpkins) reluctantly comes to stay with him after getting suspended from school. That’s potentially a positive, as is the job opportunity that comes his way. When the original actor dies following an unusual accident, Anthony is hired to play the Father Karras-like role in a motion picture that sounds dubiously similar to William Friedkin’s The Exorcist.

Adam Goldberg, clearly channeling David O. Russell, portrays the verbally abusive director. Sam Worthington and Chloe Bailey play the co-stars, and David Hyde Pierce is Father Conor, the production’s spiritual advisor.

Immediately after shooting commences, Anthony begins demonstrating bizarre behavior, almost as if he’s being possessed by the same demon the film is about. Spoiler alert: he is. We know that because Father Conor says it, not because The Exorcism has taken the time to establish that there’s even a threat. Anthony seems to go nuts out of nowhere, and most of his actions are random, as is the insinuation that he was sexually abused by a Catholic priest as a teen. (That detail is tossed in to give the picture an unearned sense of importance.) What he does is the stuff of all exorcism pictures, i.e. impossible bodily contortion, demon eyes, etc. Been there, done that.

Director Joshua John Miller’s pacing makes The Exorcism feel like it’s playing in slow-motion. Scenes that are supposed to be scary are just barely set-up, leaving viewers in the dark about what’s happening. Other times, he relies on tired gimmicks. Lights that flicker or turn themselves on and off have become so overused onscreen that the idea is no longer novel. Cliches of that nature are the best Miller can do, though. He’s thoroughly incompetent at building suspense.

I can’t help shaking the feeling that the movie was once intended to have a slight comedic edge. Tons of subtle references to The Exorcist abound, giving the impression that there was supposed to be humor in the idea of an actor in an Exorcist rip-off getting possessed for real. Maybe I’m wrong. Either way, several of the references require having seen Friedkin’s classic to understand what’s happening. As soon as the studio’s “cold room” is introduced, we know the big finale will be set there. But if you don’t know why scenes from The Exorcist were filmed in a cold room, you wouldn’t have the faintest clue why there’s one in this movie. It’s never explained.

Limp horror, clunky dialogue, and a funereal pace all conspire to sink The Exorcism. The film’s only saving graces are Russell Crowe and David Hyde Pierce. Both actors take terrible, ridiculous material and class it up as much as possible. However, not even they can save the howler of a finale, which does something overtly that The Exorcist did subtly and to much greater effect. There’s a very good reason why doing that thing is powerful when it’s subtle. When it isn’t, we get the unintentionally funny inanity that constitutes this dud’s final 15 minutes.

out of four

The Exorcism is rated R for language, some violent content, sexual references, and brief drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan