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The Exorcism Review

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Photo of Russell Crowe

Russell Crowe


Rated: R

95 Minutes

Directed by: Joshua John Miller

Starring: Russell Crowe, Ryan Simpkins


Exorcism or Witches Poster

I would wager any amount of money that no one who saw Russell Crowe at the height of his career at the turn of the century and was asked where he would be in 2024 would have replied: “Playing the lead in bad exorcist movies.” Yet, that’s precisely where the Oscar-nominated former star of such movies as “Gladiator” and “A Beautiful Mind” finds himself. Crowe didn’t get an Oscar nomination for last year’s “The Pope’s Exorcist,” but he got a Razzie nomination. He won’t get an Oscar nod for his current film, “The Exorcism,” either, but Razzie infamy will surely follow in a movie that squanders his talent.

“The Exorcism” has a concept that could have made for an intriguing meta-movie. Crowe plays Anthony Miller, an actor who has fallen on hard times professionally. He is brought in as the replacement in a cheesy exorcist movie titled “The Georgetown Project” after the original lead dies in a tragic “accident.” Of course, viewers learn in the prologue that the death was actually the work of a  

demon. Miller has his own demons to battle, many of them found in a bottle and others in memories of possible molestation as a child. He’s also serving as a watchdog for his daughter, Lee (Ryan Simpkins), who has been suspended from college. While Miller is supposed to be watching over Lee, the reverse happens, as he gets moodier and starts sitting in the dark, muttering to himself. Meanwhile, on the set, the demanding director (Adam Goldberg) keeps prodding Miller to reach within himself to deliver an outstanding performance.

By now, viewers who have ever seen an exorcist movie (which may comprise everyone in the movie theater) know what will happen. Miller starts exhibiting the “classic” signs of possession: the weirdly glowing eyes and the limbo-dance-like backward contortions. It’s far more amusing to see the portly Crowe twisted backward than the dozens of slimmer actors who have had similar fates in the last half-century. I’m not spoiling things too much to reveal that there’s the usual ultimate confrontation in “The Exorcism.” Here, the forces of God are represented by David Hyde Pierce as a priest who serves as the fake movie’s spiritual adviser and confidante for Lee.

If you look behind the scenes, “The Exorcism” has an amazing number of in-jokes and meta references. The film was directed and written by Joshua John Miller, son of noted playwright Jason Miller, who played one of the priests in the original “Exorcist” in 1972. (The younger Miller has a small part here as the fake movie’s FX director.) Also, the fake film’s title, “The Georgetown Project,” refers to the Washington, DC, neighborhood where the original “Exorcist” took place. A few strange accidents also occur on the set, as was rumored to happen in “The Exorcist” 50 years earlier. From what I gathered from the fake film sets and snippets of filming I saw, the plot of “The Georgetown Project” looks pretty similar to that of the original “Exorcist.” And, of course, the name of Russell Crowe’s character, “Miller,” is no coincidence.

All the elements are present in “The Exorcism” for a terrific meta-horror movie about a troubled actor who goes nuts when cast as an exorcism-performing priest. If Nicolas Cage had been cast in Crowe’s role, the film could have become one of Cage’s patented loony showcases. However, Russell Crowe is not Nicolas Cage, and Joshua John Miller squanders all the meta elements in “The Exorcism” in favor of a traditional exorcism film. And not a very good one at that. Seeing Russell Crowe bent backward is silly. Seeing him in a duel of incantations with David Hyde Pierce is ridiculous. Seeing him sitting in the dark, leering at his college-age daughter, is a different type of creepy. The more Joshua John Miller tries to play “The Exorcism” as a genuine demonic possession film, the sillier it becomes.

To his credit, Russell Crowe doesn’t mail in a performance here, even though he must have realized the production’s inherent shlockiness. He is believable as a struggling has-been trying to do right by his daughter and revive his career (even though, like many actors in his situation, he’s stuck in a project that’s exceptionally ill-suited for that purpose). But once the special effects kick in, Crowe’s performance goes out the door. It’s tough to gauge the dramatic intensity displayed by a man with glowing blue eyes who is bent backward. Instead, we get a run-of-the-mill horror film that’s especially disappointing because of the talent and premise that have been squandered.

Joshua John Miller has some talent as a horror director. The opening sequence, featuring Crowe’s doomed predecessor (Adrian Pasdar), effectively shifts from an actor prepping himself for a scary role to a genuinely scared actor. One kill scene involving another cast member is very effective as well. I’m more disappointed by “The Exorcism” than last year’s “The Pope’s Exorcist.” The earlier film never had a chance to rise above its roots. This one did. Hopefully, “The Exorcism” will serve as an exorcism for Russell Crowe’s career doldrums. Otherwise, he’ll suffer a fate far worse than demonic possession… career irrelevance.

In this clip, David Hyde Pierce discusses working with Russell Crowe in The Exorcism:

Watch Russell Crowe on Amazon Prime Video:

The Pope's Exorcist Streaming
Gladiator Streaming
3:10 to Yuma Streaming

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