The Vatican Tapes
July 24, 2015
Christopher Borrelli (screenplay/based on a story by) and Chris Morgan (based on a story by)
Olivia Taylor Dudley as Angela
Dougray Scott as Roger
Djimon Hounsou as Vicar Imani\
Michael Pena as Father Lozano
In the end, The Vatican Tapes is another devil/exorcism movie, complete with some “found footage” (mostly hospital security tapes). Honestly, whomever finds the next big thing for the exorcism sub-genre will surely win some major award – be it a stocking-clad leg lamp all the way up to some lifetime achievement Oscar.
Each time another devil/exorcism movie hits the streets, I find myself all agog with giddy excitement and drooling anticipation. It’s not my all-time favorite sub-genre, but I do love me a good possession flick. There’s always hope that somehow, some way, a new adventure into hell will hold up against the grand-daddy of all devil films, thus making my eyes sparkle with joy and my soul sink with an unknown, unspoken terror – of course, I’m talking aboutThe Exorcist.
Sadly, The Vatican Tapes is not one of those movies.
But frankly, there’s no way any picture could compare (other than in story/plot – which this totally does, just minus any subtle nuance or character development) to the 1973 classic. Not judging a new possession film entry against Friedkin’s masterpiece is virtually impossible. And of course, I try to keep an open mind when yet another of these types of films are released. But it doesn’t seem to matter. Sure, this latest one, The Vatican Tapes, has a different and yes, interesting ending, and that’s certainly note-worthy, but…
“C’mon, Simone…let’s talk about your big but.” — Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
Angela (Olivia Taylor Dudley) is a young blogger – her research/writing mostly deals with Satanism and the occult (this is introduced in the very opening, and then is inexplicably never spoken of again). She lives with her boyfriend Pete (John Patrick Amedori), much to the chagrin of her military/religious father Roger (Hemlock Grove’s Dougray Scott). At a surprise birthday party for Angela, her father shows up, there is tension between Roger and Pete, and Angela severely cuts her finger with a knife. From there on, things begin to get wonky (lots of ravens are hanging about and Angela becomes very thirsty) and we follow our heroine to the emergency room, then to a psychiatric hospital and eventually back home to partake in the expected exorcism proceedings.
On the other side of the world in Vatican City, the powers-that-be – Cardinal Bruun (Peter Andersson) and Vicar Imani (Djimon Hounsou) – recognize that what is happening to Angela may be more than just a routine possession. This could be the dawning of the Anti-Christ. And therein lies those teensy-tiny specks of originality.
The Vatican Tapes has some worthwhile acting. Olivia Taylor Dudley as Angela has a familiar look (she could be one of the Arquette sisters). She’s given the usual things to do – rolled eyes, mysterious whispers in another language, a severely contorted body, etc. And she sells it. We’re not given enough time to get to know the character before she becomes a thirsty vessel to undertake Satan’s bidding, so we’re not necessarily in love with her. That is one of the film’s faults. We don’t care enough.
On top of that, there’s no chemistry between Angela and boyfriend Pete. He phones in all of his “caring” for her when the going gets tough. And as far as dad Roger, I believed Dougray Scott’s performance, if alas, several of that characters actions did not resonate as truthful for a father who is witnessing all of these atrocities against his daughter.
Veteran actors Djimon Hounsou and Michael Pare lend their names to this project, although I don’t understand why. Pare is on-screen for mere seconds, and Hounsou’s role in the Vatican is pointless. He never becomes part of the story – only offering some history of the “tapes” and then some additional information in an unnecessary (and ridiculous) coda to the story. As my husband pointed out, “You had to take (insert survivor) into the secret and secure bowels of the Vatican to show news footage that the characters could just as easily have seen on MSNBC?” Exactly.
The script is rife with holes and inconsistencies (a woman who is a danger to herself and others would just be so easily released from a mental institution, because of the doctor’s personal issues?), in addition to character actions which simply make no sense. The story takes too long to get underway. If there were an effective build-up of suspense, one might put that complaint aside, but the story just lackadaisically moves ahead.
I would have preferred the story to have begun somewhere in the middle point, and gotten more into the big reveal of the climax. It’s always the build-up in these possession stories. How about we take a pseudo-different route (trail-blazed by The Omen franchise) and show us what these Satanic ne’er-do-wells are up to after the fact.
It’s not all bad. There are some spectacular set pieces in a beautifully shot and produced picture. The tense and jarring city bus scene is very well done, as is the loud and explosive climax. The visual effects therein really get the heart pumping.
In the end, it’s another devil/exorcism movie, complete with some “found footage” (mostly hospital security tapes). Honestly, whomever finds the next big thing for the exorcism sub-genre will surely win some major award – be it a stocking-clad leg lamp all the way up to some lifetime achievement Oscar.
But something new needs to be injected into this tired formula. Interestingly enough, a couple of the producers on The Vatican Tapes were also involved in the far superior The Exorcism of Emily Rose about a decade back. Has there been a truly effective devil/possession flick since Jennifer Carpenter amazed us all? And should we keep trying for it? Until some monumental script/story achievement surfaces, I will offer a resounding “no”. Give it a rest.
If I were rating on the production alone, it would receive high marks. Visually, it’s quite stunning. The climax alone is worthy of your action-packed, spectacle-wanting attentions, but you have to trudge through the rest of the film to get to this nerve-wracking, tense goodness.
It’s average – nothing ground-breaking, nothing totally crappy.
Wait, isn’t that the definition of “average”?
Yes. Just hitting that point hard.