The Exorcism squanders intriguing meta-horror with ridiculous set pieces | Films | Entertainment

Russell Crowe continues his apparent obsession with demonic possession in The Exorcism, a fun yet flimsy unconnected follow-up to the superior yet bonkers period horror, The Pope’s Exorcist.

On the surface, the Gladiator star is perfect casting as Anthony ‘Tony’ Miller, a fading actor with a troubled history of addiction who believes he has what it takes for a major Hollywood comeback.

When the lead of an upcoming horror film mysteriously dies on set, Tony lands the part after laying bare his soul at an audition with overbearing director Peter (played by Adam Goldberg), who wants to take his generic supernatural thriller to the next level.

However, the reappearance of Tony’s rebellious daughter Lee (Ryan Simpkins) dredges up the past, and he finds himself becoming the victim of the very thing his character is battling against.

In comparison to The Pope’s Exorcist, a much more gleeful horror with a superbly hammy performance from Crowe in an Italian accent, The Exorcism attempts to delve deeper but unfortunately just ends up treading water.

Scores of horror-heads will undoubtedly be planning double bills – a sort of exorcist twist on Viggo Mortensen and David Cronenberg’s thrillers A History of Violence and Eastern Promises – but finishing off with Crowe’s more recent possession picture is liable to send fans to sleep.

Director and writer Joshua John Miller clearly has larger themes in mind for his leading man than his turn as Father Gabriele Amorth; here Crowe does an admirable job of wrangling a rather shallow script into a somewhat layered performance.

The dramatic conceit starts off promising as Miller explores the underbelly of filmmaking, from sinister animatronic replicas of the actors’ faces to the all-but abusive lengths Goldberg’s director goes to unlock Tony’s trauma for his performance.

The Exorcism’s key location – a full-sized, classic haunted house set with shadowy corners evoking the original The Exorcist and Nightmare on Elm Street slashers – is jaw-droppingly realised and great fun for the camera and actors to get lost in when the film allows itself such liberty.

Unfortunately, the scares are all anchored by a rather tired metaphor for guilt and addiction with no refreshing insight, and the plot quickly descends into an utterly ridiculous yet all-too-familiar final showdown.

Brief gestures at Tony’s difficult past only serve to interrupt the thrills, a problem compounded by the confounding presence of David Hyde Pierce’s comical Father Conor, a Catholic consultant on the film who throws the tone off-kilter in almost every scene.

Pierce is not solely to blame for The Exorcism’s profoundly uncanny timbre, though, as audiences won’t know whether to cry or chuckle once Crowe’s antagonistic role becomes clear.

After one or two somewhat effective jump scares in the first act, Crowe scurries and contorts with a dead-eyed stare or malicious grin, throwing any chance the film had at genuine scares out the window.

This would be forgivable if the rest of the cast were having a fraction of the amount of fun Crowe seems to be having, but their dour self-seriousness just doesn’t chime with what could have been a wry meta-commentary on the horror genre.

While there are plenty of charming practical horror effects and a sleazy, desolate atmosphere a lot of modern chillers are missing, The Exorcism is ultimately a sloppy affair in dire need of a punch-up.

The Exorcism is in cinemas from Friday, June 21.

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