The Exorcism Review: Russell Crowe Brings Tragic Tension to Humdrum Horror

Joshua John Miller’s The Exorcism sees his meta possession movie tormented by the ghosts of horror past.

In The Exorcism, a troubled actor named Anthony ”Tony” Miller (Russell Crowe) has a shot at getting his career back on track. He’s been away from the job after battling addiction and the death of his wife. An act of horrific misfortune for another actor presents an opportunity. Tony can star in a remake of a famous horror movie. That movie is not directly named, but the title of this film probably gives you a good idea of what movie that is.

Unfortunately, there’s something amiss with the set of this film. Tony is playing a priest who is here to exorcise a young girl (played by singer Chloe Bailey). But here might be something actually demonic on set targeting him.

In the background, Tony’s teen daughter Lee (Ryan Simpkins—Fear Street) struggles to reconnect with her father but begins to form a relationship with his younger co-star. This brings her back into her dad’s world. The problem is that something is clearly not right with him and appears to be getting worse.

The first act is really strong, with the family drama putting in a strong yet understated showing. The creeping sense of a cursed movie within a movie is intriguing. There have been some fantastic modern examples, including Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor, but the early promise unspools in an extremely messy back half.

But there’s sincerity in what Joshua John Miller is making. His own history in the horror genre includes childhood parts in Kathryn Bigelow’s vampire movie Near Dark and Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III. More recently, he wrote the similarily meta script for The Final Girls. His own family history is also replete with industry connections, and one in particular makes a lot of sense in what The Exorcism is going for.

That’s because Miller’s father was John Anthony Miller, best known for playing Father Damien Karras in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. That knowledge massively accentuates the film’s opening act. The burden of legacy is laid bare on multiple levels. Even as the movie begins to lose its way in the latter half, Russell Crowe retains a tragic visage. Perhaps even for Crowe, this feels a little personal. Indeed, he certainly imbibes his performance with the weight of a man who’s been through it to some degree.

Sadly, something shifts in the makeup of The Exorcism, which robs it of its intrigue and dramatic quality. The movie has suffered multiple delays, and there’s evidence of some significant interference from outside forces. You can almost pinpoint where executive doubt crept in. It’s at that point things devolve into the kind of boring possession movie nonsense. A decision that seems like a knee-jerk reframing of the movie. Possibly one to fit better what people might have expected out of a Russell Crowe exorcism movie in a post-The Pope’s Exorcist world.

Character arcs feel either undercooked or haphazardly dissected. Adam Goldberg’s director and David Hyde Pierce’s priest feel like they’re missing pieces to their own stories, while Sam Worthington’s eager younger actor is given next to nothing to work with. He does star in the film’s standout scare, at least.

More evidence of second-half shenanigans is that the ”film within a film” aspect of the story effectively drops to the wayside. Consequently, it only briefly cropped up again unearned at the film’s climax. When you’re going to riff on the idea of remaking The Exorcist, it really has to be followed through to ensure it’s not a pointless exercise. For one reason or another, that didn’t happen for Miller’s movie.

There’s no doubt that whatever the quality of The Exorcism, it would have been judged by the intensely hot glare of The Exorcist. Let’s be fair; every possession movie with a religious perspective is going to be judged by that standard. And for good reason too. But when the final act is a glum broth of stale tropes and disjointed pacing, it only makes the glare burn fiercer. Crowe and company cannot fight against whatever sinister forces exist outside of the screen. A cruel meta nod of its own

It’s a shame because it’s clear something interesting was being made. It’s not necessarily groundbreaking in an increasingly exhausted arena, but it’s a more intimate, tragic tale of people and the film industry that gets drowned out by the worst habits of the genre.

Score: 5/10

As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 5 is ”Mediocre”. The positives and negatives wind up negating each other, making it a wash.

The Exorcism is in theaters on June 21, 2024.

The Exorcism screener provided for review.

Film

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