Film Review: The Exorcism


The Exorcism
Director: Joshua John Miller
Miramax and Outer Banks Entertainment
In Theaters: 06.21

I have a theory that Nicolas Cage is appearing in real movies again because Hollywood made a deal with the devil, giving him Russell Crowe in exchange for Cage. It may sound implausible, but I challenge you to watch The Exorcism and not see some merit in the hypothesis.

Tony Miller (Russell Crowe, Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind) is a washed-up star looking for a big comeback. Tony got a lot of bad press during a battle with alcoholism while his wife was in the hospital dying of cancer, and his fall from grace was a big one. When he lands a leading role in a horror film-a loose remake of The Exorcist called The Georgetown Project-he may have found the vessel he needs to get his career and his life back on track. He does feel a tad uncomfortable about the fact that he got offered the role after the actor who was originally cast was killed in a mysterious accident on set, but hey, a job is a job, right? As shooting on the film gets underway, Tony struggles to remember his lines, and his daughter, Lee (Ryan Simpkins, the Fear Street trilogy), who gets a job on set as a production assistant, notices strange aspects of his behavior, particularly at night, including muttering “Make way for the demon Moloch” in Latin. When Lee speaks to the film’s religious consultant, Father Conor (David Hyde Peirce, Frasier, The Perfect Host) he helpfully offers the following insight: “I wonder if what you’re describing points to some kind of stuff.” Lee begins to question whether her father’s rapid decline points to a relapse into old addictions or something more malevolent.

The Exorcism is co-written and directed by Joshua John Miller, son of the late playwright and actor Jason Miller, best remembered by cinephiles for playing Father Damien Karras in The Exorcist in 1973. This film is clearly inspired by the hype in the ‘70s involving the possibility that the productions of The Exorcist and The Omen were plagued by strange and unexplainable supernatural occurrences, and may have even been cursed. It’s a highly intriguing jumping off-point, and almost 50 minutes of the 95-minute runtime are genuinely compelling. The bulk is this is merely setting up a big third-act conclusion, however, and it’s a set-up for a payoff that never comes. The final third of The Exorcism is so rushed and slapdash that it’s clear that the studio took an “if this can’t be good, at least it can be short” approach to post-production, and it’s just a lot of rushed nonsense that doesn’t lead to any satisfactory ending or even a remotely involving climax. 

Crowe throws himself into his performance with gusto, and he’s so well cast as an actor who has fallen from grace due to a bad reputation that when the movie is on track, it’s enthralling to watch him. Sadly, he further he falls into his seeming possession, the less interesting the performance becomes, and by the end, I simply didn’t care. Simpkins is effective as Lee, and Hyde Peirce is such a delightful presence he’d almost make the film worth recommending if his character wasn’t given such a short shift. Adam Goldberg (Saving Private Ryan, Zodiac) has some memorable moments as Peter, the egotistical and abusive director of The Georgetown Project, but Sam Worthington (Avatar, The Debt) is given so little to do that one wonders if a big chunk of his performance ended up on the cutting room floor. Goldberg’s character pretentiously describes The Georgetown Project as “a psychological drama wrapped within in the skin of a horror movie,” and there’s a strong feeling that The Exorcism itself is going for something similar, along with an element of satire. The fact remains that whether the movie being released isn’t the one that Miller set out to make, or he simply wrote himself into a corner and couldn’t find a way out, it ends up failing on every level. By the end, it’s not scary, it’s not dramatic and it’s not clever. The Exorcism may never have had the potential for greatness, yet it certainly could have been much more than a major chore to finish watching. It ranks among the biggest duds of the year, and far from being a comeback for Crowe. The release of this film in the same year that his great classic, Gladiator, is getting a long-awaited sequel without him is a depressing embarrassment. –Patrick Gibbs

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