Known for his action prowess, Mark Neveldine—Crank, Gamer, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance—takes his talents behind the camera of his first horror film, The Vatican Tapes. The film follows a priest and two Vatican exorcists who must do battle with an ancient satanic force to save the soul of a young woman. There’s a long line of horror films that explore exorcisms and possession, many of which fall into a cliched rut that can’t think much further than the great films that came before them. And even though The Vatican Tapes has its heart in the right place, it’s unfortunately the same ol’ boring tale of a girl possessed that we’ve seen time and time again.
While most horror movies tend to follow a familiar path, is there any sub-genre more formulaic than an exorcism film? Since William Friedkin’s 1973 masterpiece sweet and innocent girls have been getting possessed and going on a rampage like that shit was going out of style. Yes, that exact formula has conjured up some brilliant exorcism films over the years, but those are few and far between, with everything in the middle smelling like Linda Blair’s pea soup. The Vatican Tapes is an unfortunate, forgettable mess that doesn’t come up with an original thought until it’s much too late when the damage is already done.
The movie is all over the place, first introducing us to a soon-to-be possessed girl, who is, of course, sweet and innocent until literally a balloon pops on her birthday and she’s all of a sudden the object of a satanic force. After cutting her finger and bleeding all over the birthday cake, her boyfriend and father take her to the hospital (a trip she’ll end up taking two more times in the first 20 minutes of the movie before ending up in a psychiatric hospital), and then the film sleepwalks all the way until the final frame. In the middle of all that, it sprinkles some random bouts of chaos to reminds us that the girl is possessed and in desperate need of an exorcism, so of course—and stop me if you’ve heard this one before—a priest with a mysterious past shows up to save the day.
Things happen and we’re finally ready to start the all too predictable exorcism, and again—stop me if you’ve heard this one before—the priest joins forces with another priest, who then prepare to go to war with the devil in, you guessed it, a bedroom. I’m sure you can figure out what goes down after that, so I won’t bother. Anyway, The Vatican Tapes actually has a great idea for an ending, but it’s made totally useless by everything that came before it. The ending just feels forced and desperate, completely missing the mark.
Maybe some casual horror fans will walk into this one and find some things to like—there’s a pretty cool scene in the psychiatric hospital—but for everyone else, it’s an unfortunate mess that offers nothing new to the genre. And I get it, I really do, a movie doesn’t have to be “original” to be good, but if you’re not going to do anything new, at least make it good.
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