The Exorcism (2024, dir. Joshua John Miller)

by | Jun 20, 2024

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 95 mins

UK Distributor: Vertigo Releasing

UK Release Date: 21 June 2024

WHO’S IN THE EXORCISM?

Russell Crowe, Ryan Simpkins, Chloe Bailey, Sam Worthington, David Hyde Pierce, Samantha Mathis, Marcenae Lynette, Tracey Bonner, Adrian Pasdar, Adam Goldberg

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Joshua John Miller (director, writer), M. A. Fortin (writer), Bill Block, Ben Fast and Kevin Williamson (producers), Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans (composers), Simon Duggan (cinematographer), Gardner Gould and Matthew Woolley (editors)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A troubled actor (Crowe) encounters something demonic on the set of his new film…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON THE EXORCISM?

The pandemic certainly affected the production of a number of high-profile blockbusters, from Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One to The Batman, but it also messed up countless other smaller movies being made at the same time. One of them was director and co-writer Joshua John Miller’s The Exorcism (retitled from its original name The Georgetown Project), which completed most of its filming in late 2019, but the rise of COVID-19 put a lengthy pause on that all-important additional photography, something that they had to wait until 2023 to finish.

Yet, despite all those years spent just filming stuff for it, The Exorcism is a movie that somehow still feels like there’s a lot of things that are missing. Whether or not they were edited out or they just didn’t have time to actually shoot it, there are gaping holes in the final product that are impossible to ignore, even amidst some of the more decent qualities about it, which ultimately can’t entirely cover the unfortunate mess on the screen.

The film begins when tragedy strikes on the set of an exorcism movie titled The Georgetown Project, where the actor playing the priest is off-screened to death by an unseen force. Meanwhile, fellow actor Anthony Miller (Russell Crowe), who is recovering from a destructive drug-and-alcohol fuelled period that has estranged him from his teenage daughter Lee (Ryan Simpkins), successfully auditions to replace the slain priest performer, and soon he’s on set in full Catholic get-up – which is slightly awkward for Anthony, given a disturbing core memory from his days as an altar boy – accompanied by Lee as his PA. Soon, Anthony begins displaying some alarming behaviour that Lee initially pins down to him relapsing, but it quickly becomes apparent that something else has taken hold of him, something that real-life priest Father Conor (David Hyde Pierce), who is serving as a consultant on the film, must try and exorcise before it’s too late.

Before I lay into all the things about The Exorcism that do not work, and there are definitely many, allow me to list some of the things that do work. For one, it’s not a poorly shot film, as the cinematography has moments where you can see the ambition light up the screen, particularly some effective pan shots that play around a bit with blocking. The main hook, that it’s a demonic possession taking place on the set of an actual exorcism movie, is also quite intriguing, with much of the film’s first half spent on setting up many of the things happening behind-the-scenes, from a prop room with animatronics and latex masks, to a “cold room” housing the chilling set for the exorcism itself. Though many of those things end up playing no part whatsoever later on in the film, it’s at least interesting to peek behind the curtain a little bit and see how much of this stuff would work on any similar movie set. And, of course, the acting is solid, with Crowe doing well in his second exorcism-themed horror within months of The Pope’s Exorcist, there are some good turns from Ryan Simpkins and Chloe Bailey (the latter as an actor playing the in-movie possessed girl), and it’s just nice to see David Hyde Pierce in a film again, fourteen years after his last big-screen role.

Pretty much everything else about The Exorcism, though, is ungodly awkward. You can definitely tell that this movie has been on ice for a number of years, because there are moments where you can practically see the blank spots that would have been filled by footage shot later, but again they either didn’t have the time or budget to actually shoot it, or they just forgot. As a result, so many things here are left undeveloped in ways that make the film far more nonsensical, with characters just being able to teleport from one place to another without logical explanation, certain areas will be shockingly easy to access (even when they’re strictly closed down), and particular romantic relationships between some of the main characters are left almost entirely off-screen, or more likely on the cutting room floor. Of course, one must acknowledge that the real-life circumstances almost certainly forced the filmmakers to cut such corners in order to deliver as final a product as they could, but the way that it all seems so haphazardly put together, with glaring gaps in the narrative and reckless uses of certain cast members – poor Sam Worthington, completely wasted in a role that could have been played by just about anyone – it’s doubtful that many would be satisfied regardless.

Most crucially, however, The Exorcism falls into the easiest of traps by having an initially fresh set-up, only to then become just another exorcism movie that follows most of the same archetypical traits. I have said previously how exorcism movies always follow the same formula set out in classics like The Exorcist (which is, of course, name-dropped at one point here), which is one of the reasons why it’s so hard for there to be one that actually stands out among the crowd. This film is a prime example of not just doing all the familiar tropes from contorting bodies to a climax riddled with unbearable strobe lighting, but all under the pretence of subverting said tropes with its meta film-within-a-film setting, when in fact it’s just a unique location for all the usual stuff to unfold. This film could be hastily rewritten to take place in, say, a restaurant instead of a movie set, and very little about the plot would have changed. That is how inconsequential the setting is, and it is disappointing to see this film’s potential being carelessly discarded in favour of all the exorcism movie characteristics we’ve seen over and over again.

Hopefully one day, we will get an exorcism flick that actually does something original with the formula. The Exorcism, however, is a sure sign that there’s much more that needs to be done in order to bring this kind of movie back to life.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Exorcism has an initially intriguing set-up, as well as some decent cinematography and strong performances, but it becomes a mere vessel for almost every exorcism movie trope in existence, while the awkward and somewhat incomplete filmmaking lays bare its gaping holes as a result of its own behind-the-scenes frustrations.

Two out of five stars

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