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The Exorcism (2024) Review: Begone, Film!

Russell Crowe has two cuts on his cheeks in a photo from the 2024 film The Exorcism

The Exorcism’s exorcism is stunningly mediocre, and the glimpses of genuine potential it fails to grab makes it all the more blasphemous.

Director: Joshua John Miller
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Run Time: 93′
Global theatrical Release: June 21, 2024
VOD Release (US): July 9, 2024
VOD Release (UK): TBA

This is the second time Russell Crowe starred in an exorcism movie within the span of two years. I wonder what possessed him to take these roles all of a sudden. (ba dum tiss).
Directed by Joshua John Miller, The Exorcism follows Anthony Miller (Russell Crowe, of Gladiator), an actor struggling to overcome a period of alcoholism and familial neglect, as well as the resulting rift with his daughter Lee (Ryan Simpkins, of Pride and Glory).

His comeback role is as an exorcist in a horror film. Unfortunately, he starts exhibiting bizarre symptoms, and it slowly becomes clear it’s not him being stressed or senile.

Lord have mercy, it’s yet another exorcism movie. At this point, there have been so many exorcism movies that just looking at the word triggers a Gestalt decomposition in me. The horrifically groundbreaking tropes that The Exorcist arguably started in 1973 now has its followers, as well as followers of those followers. In other words, the genre has been wrung drier than sacramental bread. So surely, The Exorcist has to have prepared something unique enough to justify its existence, right?

Short answer: No. But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is initially, I genuinely thought that it did have something to build an identity.

The fact that The Exorcism is about making a movie about an exorcism means not only is it very confusing to write a sentence about, but also that it can touch upon some meta aspects of exorcism movies. There have been tales of actors falling too deep into method acting for extreme roles, or directors’ visions going too far as to extend to abusive behavior towards the cast. The production tales behind The Exorcist and its director William Friedkin is one famous – or rather infamous – example.

Three people crouch on the floor in the corner of a house in a photo from the 2024 film The Exorcism
The Exorcism (Vertical)

The Exorcism dips quite a lot into those realms at first, to the point where I have a tinfoil hat theory that this film originally started out as a satire of The Exorcist productions. Not only do we see accidents happen on set of Anthony’s movie, but the director turns out to be disturbingly manipulative. He pries into Anthony’s troubled past, poking at his trauma, all in order to draw out the perfect performance from him. That could have said something about how some film productions can leave scars more poignant than any actual demonic possession.

Then there is Anthony himself. While his estrangement with his daughter is also a fairly common character setup, Crowe still delivers, portraying an awkward, guilty parent who’s letting his past eat away at him. A psychological dive into how that affects Anthony alongside the director’s abuse at him would have, again, been more disturbing and interesting than him getting possessed and banging his head on a table or something.

And then a little past the halfway mark, Russell Crowe gets possessed and starts banging his head on a table.

The film does a pretty good job at keeping things ambiguous at first. Initially, it’s just set lights falling, Anthony having a spontaneous nosebleed, or him walking around a bit at night. These are things that could have been explained as just deep stress and bad luck. I appreciated that sense of ambiguity, as it built up some legit tension. But then the film veers into explicit demonic possession and all that tension just deflates as I now realize we’re just in another demon movie.

And when the film lost me with its main premise, that’s when I started noticing other flaws, such as its scares amounting to nothing more than haunted house levels of lights flickering and sudden jumpscares, or the dialogue feeling as stiff as a Catholic rosary. The dialogue hurts the most; initially, when it was just between Anthony and Lee, I took it as the film showing the emotional distance they were feeling. But then other characters started acting like they were struggling to remember their lines, and I no longer believed that I was seeing real human characters here.

Not to mention, because the film is trying to get across Russell Crowe being creepy, there’s very little character work to be had in the first place. I said Anthony’s character setup interested me, but it remains at that: a setup. There’s nothing really built upon that or how his relationship with Lee progresses. Even if the film calls itself The Exorcism, I still want to be able to actually care about who needs exorcising.

The Exorcism: Trailer (Vertical)

This paragraph may contain slight spoilers for the ending, although I am pretty sure the trailers made it quite obvious. At the end, the film completely turns into an exorcism movie, no smoke or mirrors, and while there’s a lot of chanting, special effects, and people trying to open their mouths wide enough to swallow a bucketful of holy water, that’s when the film is at its least interesting. Russell Crowe suddenly performs an exorcism to great effect, but it’s such a sudden shift to the fantastical that it comes off as silly.

On its own, The Exorcism would have just been a clichéd, uninteresting exorcism movie. But it stings a bit more because it did have bits of genuine potential at the beginning, with its movie production setup. And when the film succumbs to the demons known as laziness and goes the typical route of demonic possession films, the disappointment is amplified. It’s like taking me out to a steakhouse but then only ordering bread. It’s already bland on its own, but it feels worse when I have to exorcise my initial excitement from me.

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The Exorcism was released globally in theaters on June 21, 2024 and will be available to watch on digital platforms & VOD from July 9, 2024. Read our reviews of more religious horror films from the 2020s: Deliver Us, The Devil’s Bath, The Exorcist: Believer, The Last Rite, The Pope’s Exorcist, Prey for the Devil, and Skeletons in the Closet!

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