The Vatican Tapes (2015) Film Review, a movie directed by Mark Neveldine, and starring Kathleen Roberston, Michael Peña, Djimon Hounsou, Dougray Scott, Alison Lohman, John Patrick Amedori, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Michael Paré, Tehmina Sunny, Bruno Gunn, Daniel Bernhardt, Cas Anvar, Noemi Gonzalez, Santana Dempsey and Peter Andersson.
The Exorcist. There, it’s been said. Much like how Star Wars’ distinct signature still resonates through modern day cinematic space operas, Wiliam Friedkin’s 1973 classic horror film The Exorcist has also left an indelible mark on the demonic possession genre. Whereas Star Wars created a solid foundation for everything that came after it to build upon — ranging from blips on moviegoer’s radar like Wing Commander to box-office smashes like Guardians of The Galaxy — the films that trailed in The Exorcist’s bile-ridden wake have been confined by the iconic devices established back in 1973. Like most of The Exorcist’s unimaginative successors, The Vatican Tapes falls victim to repeating The Exorcist’s time-tested tropes, and offers little value to the genre save for some squandered potential in the film’s last several minutes (this review contains SPOILERS).
The Vatican Tapes is centered on a woman named — wait for it — Angela (Olivia Taylor Dudley). That’s the level of genius powering this film. Although it’s never explicitly stated in the movie, we get the idea that Angela is the type of solid contributor to society that knits, bakes apple pies and volunteers her time nursing injured puppies back to health at her local SPCA. Regrettably for Angela (assuming she’s not a member of the KISS army), the Devil has marked her as his mortal vessel for the enslavement of mankind. As the demon takes control of her mind and body, Angela becomes a walking homicide dispenser, leading her father (Dougray Scott) and boyfriend (John Patrick Amedori) to believe that she’s losing her mind. As is typical of the millennial generation, Angela isn’t camera shy, and after her penchant for speaking in ancient tongues, being in two places at one time and projecting images of freaking demons from her face, goes viral up in Vatican City, a team of the Vatican’s finest demon slayers are dispatched to make everything square.
It’s difficult to discern how The Vatican Tapes is trying to connect with its audience. Obviously the audience is meant to feel sympathetic for Angela, being that there is a demon all up in her, but, being that there is a demon all up in her, at a certain point (around the time she tries to drown a baby) she is no longer a sympathetic character. It’s inexcusable that this film doesn’t provide any other character for the audience to root for once Angela is sidelined by her possession. Angela’s father is a dick to her dreamy, party planning, motorcycle riding boyfriend, a guy whose biggest fault is being perfectly bland. Even the charismatic Michael Peña comes off as an ersatz version of himself. The film tries to compensate by at times taking a detached documentary style approach, pulling the unsteady camera back and offering what feels like stolen glimpses at the disturbing events as they unfold. The problem with The Vatican Tapes utilizing a documentary film approach is that most of the film is shot in a traditional style with recognizable actors; cutting away to a found footage style after watching familiar actors like Michael Peña only takes the viewer out of the experience.
A secret Vatican enclave that act as the vanguard against the Anti-Christ’s onslaught has the makings of a solid film. Watching the priests bathed in the glow of their Macs as they studied surveillance footage of Angela gave me hope this movie might divert from traveling down the overdone demonic possession movie path — namely watching a woman tied up in a bedroom, shouting obscenities. Sadly, aside from setting up some webcams and broadcasting their exorcism over Wi-Fi, the technological savvy of the church is wasted. Any hope of these priests behaving like badass demon assassins flys right out the window as The Vatican Tapes third act becomes an Exorcist re-enactment.
Towards the end of the film, there is a moment where a top-secret Vatican version of the Batcave is revealed. This underground layer is the home base for continuing the battle with the Anti-Christ as he sows the seeds of destruction upon the earth. This film should have begun at the point where the Devil had the upper hand, and a secret cabal of priests had come together to form a last-ditch resistance. That’s an exciting pitch for a demonic possession movie. That’s also where The Vatican Tapes ends.
The Vatican Tapes does an exceptional job of leaving viewers wanting more: the audience is left wanting more scares, thrills and intrigue from this uninspired movie, and wanting to watch the film that the end of The Vatican Tapes teases us with. It’s difficult to fathom that after 42 years of demonic possession films, studios are not producing content that strays from the now standard latin speaking, body twisting, bile spitting possession movies that take place in middle America’s upstairs bedrooms. The Vatican Tape’s is so derivative that it leaves me dumbfounded by the notion that movie studios believe there is still a market for these exhausted possession movie tropes.
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