Review: How much of ‘The Pope’s Exorcist’ is real?



Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe) in Screen Gems' "The Pope's Exorcist." (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)

Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe) in Screen Gems’ “The Pope’s Exorcist.” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)

Do you believe in demons? Hollywood’s veteran actor Russell Crowe makes a comeback to the silver screen with a demon-filled movie “The Pope’s Exorcist,” giving life to Vatican’s illustrious Chief Exorcist Father Gabriel Amorth, aka last demon-bender who claimed to perform over 160,000 exorcisms

Renowned Hollywood actor Russell Crowe is poised to captivate cinema lovers with his commanding performance in an upcoming blockbuster film titled “The Pope’s Exorcist,” a highly anticipated masterpiece to enthrall all who relish the mystique of supernatural events and the horror genre.

Drawing inspiration from the real-life notes of Father Gabriel Amorth, the Vatican’s illustrious Chief Exorcist, this saga delves into Amorth’s valiant endeavors to expel the demonic force that has possessed a young child while simultaneously unraveling an age-old conspiracy that the Vatican has been fervently concealing from the world.

I appreciate the film’s attempt to ground the concept of exorcism in a historical context and to depict it through the lens of a real exorcist identity, which sets it apart from its counterparts. However, as someone who has seen almost all horror films and is not easily scared by typical horror techniques or visual effects, I did not find this production to be innovative or free of cliches.

Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney), Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe), Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto) and Julia (Alex Essoe) in Screen Gems’
Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney), Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe), Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto) and Julia (Alex Essoe) in Screen Gems’ “The Pope’s Exorcist.” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)

Even I think there were too many gaps in the film’s flow, and too much focus was placed on the exorcism theme. This may be due to the film’s short duration. Unfortunately, this makes it a movie without a strong contender for greatness.

Furthermore, portraying a pristine pope and a pure-as-the-driven-snow Vatican representation is not very convincing, especially with the devil running amok in the world.

The story is set in a forest in Spain, where a family inherits a church from their deceased relative and begins restoration work. However, one of the most ancient demons disturbs the family’s youngest member. I didn’t understand why this family went to this church in the first place, and living in this creepy and dilapidated church, filled with spiderwebs, seemed strange. On the other hand, after the possession, the Vatican quickly receives a report with pictures of this young boy and even sends Father Amorth to Spain to deal with the situation. I felt the same surprise as the character playing the mother when she learned that the Vatican was involved in her son’s distress. Unfortunately, the plot has some noticeable gaps considering these aspects.

On the other hand, the depiction of Father Amorth in the movie differs significantly from his true character. In the film, he is shown driving a Lambretta scooter with a Ferrari sticker, enjoying double espressos, wearing red socks under his cassock, and waving his cassock in the wind while listening to Faith No More’s music as he wanders around Rome. However, in real life, Father Amorth was a simple and clean-shaven priest. Therefore, the filmmakers tried to create a more exciting and authentic character for the fiction, supporting it with veteran actor Crowe’s dexterity.

Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto) and Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe) in Screen Gems’
Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto) and Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe) in Screen Gems’ “The Pope’s Exorcist.” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)

Fact or fiction?

Exorcism films tend to include the same cliches because they have been heavily influenced by the iconic 1973 movie “The Exorcist.” This film featured a priest performing an exorcism using holy water, a cross, and other religious relics to expel a demon from a possessed girl.

The movie’s depiction of the possessed girl’s terrifying physical contortions, including levitation, head-spinning, and crawling like a spider, has become a standard in exorcism movies.

Also, it all starts with an exorcism scene, where the priest perfectly defeats the demon yet confronts an unknown powerful demon as the movies unfurl.

However, the essential element of these movies is determining the devil’s name. For some reason, when a priest learns the names of these evil forces, they are one step closer to defeat. The name in this movie is Asmodeus, a commonly known character in Judeo-Christian and Islamic mythology, often depicted as a demon or a fallen angel linked to seduction, desire, and enticement. Some belief systems view him as the leader of demons, jinn, or one of the seven rulers of Hell.

“The Pope’s Exorcism” is no exception, as it features all these elements in abundance.

The movie revolves around the concept of exorcism, as the name suggests, but this time it is based on a real character, Gabriel Amorth named the chief exorcist of the Vatican and claimed to have performed over 160,000 exorcisms. I guess it must be difficult for a single person to fight so many demons for real.

The film is also based on Amorth’s accounts of exorcism that he published in his own books. At this point, the thin line between fact and fiction comes into play here, yet in my opinion, the film is based on fiction more than facts in the priest’s memoirs.

Possession concept

The changing cultural paradigms surrounding the concept of possession, which we often witness in horror films, surprises me and supports the idea that a real evil force can manifest itself in the world. In European horror films, a demon or evil spirit often carries possessions. In Turkish horror films, on the other hand, possessions are attributed only to jinns, which is mainly based on the beliefs of the Islamic religion. In Islam, jinns are considered to be a different type of being living in the same universe as humans, including good and bad intentions.

However, in most of the horror films and horror genres featuring demons, these evil forces only manifest as a possession in people who have weakened faith or have committed sins for a reason.

In the film, Father Amorth, unlike most exorcists, tries to determine whether certain situations, known as “possession,” are caused by psychosis. In reality, as in the film, he looks for psychiatric reasons first and does not label every situation as a simple possession.

For him, there are specific criteria, such as a person’s speaking in an unknown language, knowing things that the possessed person cannot know, or suddenly hating the spiritual items.

Spanish Inquisition

Throughout the movie, Amorth discovers that a demon was responsible for the Spanish Inquisition – a historical period when the Catholic Church and Spanish monarchy investigated and punished those suspected of crimes against the church, including witchcraft and demonic possession. Many people were subjected to exorcisms as a punishment or attempted cure during this time.

The movie suggests that the Spanish Inquisition was initiated by Friar Alonso de Ojeda, a renowned exorcist possessed by the demon Asmodeus. Asmodeus supposedly manipulated Friar de Ojeda into persuading Queen Isabella I of Castile to commence the Inquisition in 1478 to sully the reputation of God and the Catholic Church.

Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto) and Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe) in Screen Gems’
Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto) and Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe) in Screen Gems’ “The Pope’s Exorcist.” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)

Lost Vatican girl

“The Pope’s Exorcist” clearly references the lost Vatican girl issue as Father Amorth (Russell Crowe) bears partial responsibility for the suicide of a young girl named Rosaria, who jumped to her death. Father Amorth explains that Rosaria had a mental illness and hints at rumors of sexual abuse within the Vatican’s walls, linking it to the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi.

Furthermore, Father Amorth confronts Vatican officials in the movie and questions why Rosaria’s death had not been properly investigated, as the Vatican had ignored Orlandi’s disappearance for 40 years.

Amorth, who served as the chief exorcist for the Diocese of Rome for over 30 years, publicly expressed his belief that Emanuela Orlandi was kidnapped and forced into prostitution by members of a Roman criminal organization with ties to the Vatican. Furthermore, he claimed that the Vatican’s refusal to cooperate with the investigation into her disappearance suggested that the church may be involved in a cover-up. Amorth made these statements in his 2010 book “The Last Exorcist,” where he also criticized the Church’s handling of cases of demonic possession and the lack of exorcists within the church.

The disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi, the daughter of a Vatican employee, the subject of the Netflix docuseries “Vatican Girl: The Disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi,” remains one of the mysteries yet to be solved. She went missing at the age of 15 while going to a music lesson near Sant’Apollinare Square in the center of Rome.

Since then, there have been numerous speculations about what happened to Orlandi, ranging from mafia killings to international conspiracies. One of the claimants about Orlandi’s fate was Mehmet Ali Ağca, who attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981. Ağca claimed that Orlandi was taken hostage to secure his release after the assassination attempt. In an interview with Gabriel Amorth, he implied that Ağca was possessed by a demon when asked whether Satan could take over the Vatican. According to Amorth, Ağca was a demon.

Ağca claimed that Orlandi was kidnapped but not killed and was being held in a monastery.


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