Any film based on the premise of an exorcism will always draw immediate comparison to the original that started it all: The Exorcist, mainly because most adhere so closely in story and style that there is little to necessitate their creation. So, while Mark Neveldine’s (Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) The Vatican Tapes tries to be an edgier updating of the classic, mainly through mild-gore and a pointless found-footage style, it only proves in doing so just how truly unimaginative it is.
After a string of bizarre incidents land Angela (Olivia Taylor Dudley) in hospital, she starts to exhibit strange behaviour before falling into a coma. When she miraculously awakes, it draws the attention of Father Lozano (Michael Peña) who attempts to guide her confused father (Dougray Scott) and boyfriend (John Patrick Amedori) as the now increasingly gruesome events continue to occur around her. With the assistance of two Vatican exorcists (Peter Andersson & Djimon Hounsou), it soon becomes apparent that there are satanic forces at play and that the only answer is to exercise the demon that plagues her soul.
Apart from an ending that’s fairly innovative for the genre by comparison, the film doesn’t actually bring much of anything new to the worn down exorcism narrative. The standard plot points play out without much care to switch up the roster, and by the time the exorcism does come around, it’s much too late to save the film from it’s generic story. Admittedly, the film does offer hints of a new take on the exorcism outing, like Andersson’s priest who was possessed as a child and remarks that to fight evil involves moving away from God, but none are followed up beyond what is a rather cruel teasing of a better movie.
The film also employs a rather annoying habit of switching perspectives to that of surveillance or phone camera footage. While the title suggests that the film centres on the Vatican’s documenting of the exorcism, and thus the found-footage style filming, this device actually plays little into the story itself. Instead, the film interchanges every now and then for reasons presumably based on style without any other purpose narrative wise, but the effect is to do little more than distract.
The only real saving grace of the film is Dudley’s (Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension) performance, which alone is able to muster up a certain creepiness and feeling of unease. When allowed to, she paints a heartbreaking picture of a woman fighting a losing battle, but it’s consistently overshadowed by flapping crows and cellphone point-of-views. The rest of the cast is fairly wasted, relegated to serving single purposes, like Scott (Taken 3), who’s given nothing to do but worry for his daughter, or Peña (Ant-Man), who fills his time by consistently reassuring him of his faith. There’s also Hounsou (Guardians of the Galaxy) as the priest who only makes a few appearances and never leaves the Vatican, suggesting a quick paycheck or a called-in favour, and then Andersson who feels the most short-changed with such an unexplored intriguing character.
Those that enjoy satanic themed horrors won’t be disappointed with The Vatican Tapes, as it serves up everything to be expected, but for those wanting a little more from their exorcisms, you may fare better sticking to the classics. The Vatican Tapes is out now on HD Digital and DVD.