BIFFF Audiences Yell at Golden Globe Winner in “The Pope’s Exorcist”
If watching a scary movie sounds like bliss to you then Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival is the place to be. The festival showcases films with themes that are fantastic in one form or another. It’s where the scariest moments of a film are experienced with audience catcalls, improvised yelled dialogue, and spontaneous crowd participation: foot-stomping, slow hand claps, and whoops.
It was in this setting that I settled down to watch my first true horror film at BIFFF, after a harrowing metro trip from the red-light district (where I’d accidentally booked my hotel,) to the Brussels Expo Center, where the festival takes place. Most locals cautioned against taking the Metro alone at 9 pm on my route. The caution was that nothing bad would happen, but “It might be sketchy,” coming from the outskirts of northern Brussels as I was.
Despite the jetlag, two hours of sleep, and a language I didn’t understand, I found myself among a small group of female strangers bouncing our way through the underground tunnels of Brussels. I’d chosen the Metro car because a mother and baby got on ahead of me – what could happen, right?
In the best horror movie tradition, she and most of the other women exited at the next stop. As we ricocheted into a flickeringly lit tunnel, a homeless man entered the car, looming over each of us asking for money. By the time we were through the tunnel, the man had moved on. I saw three emaciated men sharing some form of drug that involved foil and syringes at the next stop, but they remained on the platform and the metro continued into the dark, rainy night.
The feeling of being in something that was about to get worse, had me wondering if I should move the seat to join the two teenage girls on the opposite end of the car – strength in numbers, right? But then I recalled what happens to teenage girls in most horror films, and stayed seated where I was.
As it turned out, my fears were groundless. The ride was sketchy, but I was safe. It was a dark and rainy night. I was alone. But that changed the moment I stepped into the Brussel’s Expo Hall where throngs of excited people were jostling at the bar. A group of people marched through Hall-D1 in Medieval-influenced fantasy costumes, to the beat of a gigantic lone drum. A long line of people snaked through the hall, amidst these bustling and juxtaposed happenings, lining up for The Pope’s Exorcist. The film stars two-time Golden Globe winner, Russell Crowe (The Loudest Voice, A Beautiful Mind), as the titular character.
If you are afraid of scary movies, then the place to see them must be BIFF where audience participation is encouraged. The Golden Globe winner, therefore, was yelled at by the audience, which is a sign of homage from the horror fans.
The boisterous crowd, shouted at Crowe’s character, Father Gabriele Amorth, at the scariest moments, providing extra dialogue as well as cautionary advice, like, “Don’t Do It!” at critical moments, allowing the audience to whoop and let out their fear in laughter.
The film is directed by Julius Avery, (Samaritan, Son of a Gun,) and focuses on a priest who was the chief exorcist of the Vatican and performed more than 100,000 exorcisms.
The priest, as written, delivers sanguine charm and moments of levity as he traverses the countryside on his Vespa, his cassock whipping in the breeze, revealing bright socks.
This charm is used in humorous back and forth during the initial rounds of the exorcism. Indeed, one might say the subtle character build suggests Father Gabriele Amorth’s success with demons reflects an understanding of forces intent on evil. He demonstrates a sly ability to look beyond obvious obfuscation, to the real nefarious intent shielded by pretend civility both with demons and with the political shenanigans within the Vatican itself.
The ‘possession’ is Linda-Blair-worthy with self-mutilation, sheening and dulling of the skin, and eyes that do the full rotation – both literally and figuratively in color and content – the lenses sometimes swirl as though alive. British actor, Ralph Ineson, nails the echoing and powerful voice of the demon. There were moments that were scary enough that the audience forgot to yell at Crowe.
The supernatural thriller casts a tale of the Pope’s Exorcist under pressure within political power plays of the Vatican. It is against this backdrop that Crowe is called to a monastery in Spain, that is being refurbished by a recent widow with a son who has not talked since his father’s death. Laurel Marsden is the nubile daughter who gets tossed around when the demon takes over. Peter DeSouza-Feighoney is the vessel for the demon. Franco Nero is The Pope.
The film deals with the Inquisition and suggests reasons for its occurrence that may or may not be true – depending on your faith. The film has a bouncy feel, or maybe it was merely the BIFFF audience that unlocked the joie de vie. The Pope’s Exorcist has all the prerequisites of the genre, from things that go bump inside the walls, sudden deaths, moments of guilt, temptation, and confession and the fight between good and evil.