Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 91 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. Exorcism stuff is my personal “NOPE!,” so I think this movie is more frightening than most other horror films, even if the content itself is repetitive for the genre: violence includes a woman being attacked by a crow, getting in a car accident, urging other people to kill themselves (including encouraging a man to smash lightbulbs into his eyes, which we see from behind), speaking in tongues, and contorting her body in bizarre ways. Also some cursing, language, and an allusion to prostitution.
‘The Vatican Tapes’ isn’t a particularly creative entry into the exorcism-film subgenre of horror movies, but it has some solid, creepy ideas under all the typical stuff.
By Roxana Hadadi
Why horror films keep treading in the waters of “The Exorcist” is unclear—have there really been so few new ideas in the decades since that classic?—but at least “The Vatican Tapes” has a couple of tricks up its sleeve. It takes the film nearly its entire 91-minute runtime to get to them, but there is some creativity buried (deeply) in this latest addition to the exorcism scary-movie subgenre.
The film centers around Angela (Olivia Dudley, of “Transcendence”), whose main source of conflict is the dislike between her soon-to-be live-in boyfriend and her religious, conservative father, who disapproves of their impending cohabitation. They all put on smiles to celebrate Angela’s 27th birthday together, but things start going wrong fast: Angela cuts herself while slicing up the cake, then is attacked by a crow, then there’s a car accident, and eventually she’s in a coma.
When Angela finally wakes up 40 days later (one Biblical reference out of many in the film), she’s different. She doesn’t really care about keeping the peace between her boyfriend and her father any longer, and instead gets weirder and weirder. She speaks in strange tongues. Her body contorts in bizarre, grotesque ways. She can read minds. She encourages other patients at the hospital to harm themselves. She considers killing a newborn baby. Is there any limit to her violence—and could possession be the cause of it?
All of these increasingly concerning events don’t go unnoticed by the Catholic Church, tipped off by Father Lozano (Michael Peña, of “Ant-Man”), who after serving numerous tours in the military decided to take up religious responsibility and realizes that something with Angela is very, very wrong. So it falls on Lozano and the Vatican-sent Cardinal Bruun (Peter Andersson, of “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”) to watch over Angela and possibly perform an exorcism on her so the demonic force controlling her doesn’t get out—and cause more havoc than they could ever expect.
Overall, most of the plot of “The Vatican Tapes” will sound very familiar if you’ve seen “The Exorcism” or any other possession films made since then, since they often feature a young woman, a younger/older religious figure dynamic, and the same kind of creepy imagery. So what ends up being most interesting about “The Vatican Tapes” is what it does differently, like conveying a Catholic guard whose sole responsibility is to monitor security footage from around the world for demonic activity, or the final 10 minutes of the film, which really skew it into the Biblical-context direction and elevate the plot to a grander scale. (In fact, all of that religious content could be a jumping-off point for parents and teenagers to talk: Did the movie give enough attention, or respect, to all of the Catholic themes it plays around with?)
But those are only a few nuggets of creativity in an otherwise bland film. Although there are plenty of worthwhile actors in the cast—including Peña, who positively stole “Ant-Man” with his comic chops earlier this summer—everyone here is operating on the “dour and dumb” setting; none of the relationships seem very believable and none of the characters are really developed. As the “possessed girl,” Dudley whispers, snarls, and glares effectively (and a scene where she coughs up three perfect eggs, representing the Holy Trinity, is wonderfully bonkers), but her character only gets interesting at the very end of the film; otherwise, you won’t be invested in what’s happening to her because she’s never a real person.
Ultimately “The Vatican Tapes” is too much of what’s come before for this horror subgenre, and yet is clearly focused on what may come after—the ending is an obvious ploy for a sequel, which makes most of the preceding film feel like a waste of time. If your teens are into scary movies, watch “The Exorcist” together and then be prepared for them to never sleep again. Watching “The Vatican Tapes,” which is really just an imitation of that classic, just isn’t worth the time.
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