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The Exorcism (2024) Review

First he was The Pope’s Exorcist, now Russell Crowe (The Land of Bad, Gladiator) finds himself playing an actor playing an exorcist in The Exorcism. But not just any actor, he’s playing Anthony Miller, which was Jason Miller’s birth name. Jason Miller, as you may remember, played Father Karras in The Exorcist, and Anthony is starring in what looks like a remake of that film, The Georgetown Project, which was also The Exorcism’s shooting title.

As if that wasn’t meta enough, The Exorcism was co-written by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller, who previous collaborated on the excellent film within a film slasher comedy The Final Girls and the TV show Queen of the South. And, if you hadn’t guessed, Joshua is the son of, you guessed it, Jason Miller.

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As The Exorcism opens, we see the actor who was originally cast in the role come to a mysteriously nasty end while rehearsing on the film’s set. Miller is offered the role, and, his career having been derailed by his drinking after the death of his wife, Miller sees this as his chance for a comeback and his years as an altar boy before losing his own faith as a foundation to build his performance on.

So, with his estranged daughter Lee (Ryan Simpkins, Fear Street: Part One – 1994, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off), who has just been expelled from college, as his personal assistant, he prepares to fight cinematic, personal, and perhaps literal demons,.

The Exorcism was originally filmed in 2019 and deemed unreleasable without reshoots and reedits. After COVID made those reshoots impossible, Miramax simply shelved the film, until The Pope’s Exorcist became an unexpected hit. New scenes were filmed in various locations due to the performer’s schedules and commitments, then the film was given its final edit earlier this year.

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Given that kind of history, one might be forgiven for expecting the results to be something of a train wreck. Surprisingly, it’s actually not that bad, with a talented cast that includes Sam Worthington (Avatar, 9 Bullets) as the film within a film’s other priest, Adam Goldberg (Stay Alive, The Equalizer) as the film’s director Peter, who’s methods resemble those William Friedkin was said to have used on the set of The Exorcist. There’s also Adrian Pasdar (Near Dark, The Manson Brothers Midnight Zombie Massacre) in a supporting role and David Hyde Pierce (Frasier, Wet Hot American Summer) is creepy as the film’s consultant Father Conor.

The problem is, The Exorcism isn’t so much a horror film about making a horror film in the style of New Nightmare or One Cut of the Dead as it is a behind the scenes drama with a twist of psychological horror and a possible supernatural element. As filming goes on, Peter pushes his star to draw on his own troubled past which includes childhood trauma, I think you can guess what might have happened to a young altar boy, to shape his performance. As Miller reaches into himself, he also begins to act strangely, including very inappropriate actions aimed at Lee. Has he become possessed, or has he been pushed too far and reverted to his old vices?

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The result is a film more concerned with things like addiction, trauma and the damage done by the church and its covering up for abusive clergy than with jump scares, although there are several of them strategically placed throughout the film and helped along by some creepy camerawork by Simon Duggan (Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor).

The Exorcism shifts gears in the final scenes, which I’m willing to bet were among the new footage. It’s more in tone with what viewers have been led to expect, but feels at odds tonally with what has come before it. It might have been better to leave it out and let the film work as the filmmakers originally intended it to.

The Exorcism will be released to theatres in the UK on June 21st by Vertigo Releasing and on the same date in the US by Vertical Entertainment.

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