‘The Exorcism’ Review: Russell Crowe Is Fighting Demons Again But This Time The Devil Is In The Details

The Exorcist directed by William Friedkin and written by William Peter Blatty is considered, still, perhaps the greatest horror film of all time, certainly the most popular. The 1973 movie was even nominated for 10 Oscars and won two, unheard of in the genre at that time. It has been endlessly imitated for the past half century right up to now, recently and notably David Gordon Green’s critically reviled 2023 reboot The Exorcist: Believer, which even brought original Exorcist star Ellen Burstyn back into the fold after all these decades. But the OG is impossible to touch, so what was going through Joshua John Miller’s mind when he decided to take on a new film so closely linked to it?

Director and co-writer (with M.A. Fortin) of The Exorcism, Miller has the 1973 film in his family bones, even if he wasn’t born until a year after its release. His father is Jason Miller, the late playwright and actor who so memorably played the doomed Father Karras, who jumped out the window during the climactic exorcism, in Friedkin’s film. It brought Miller an Oscar nomination for Supporting Actor, and as his son says dad would often tell him the famous stories of the film’s making in which, lore would have it, several people connected with it died or were haunted by it in the ensuing years. Even a book has been written on all of this.

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With all this background in mind, plus the demons of the Trump era in their heads. Miller and Fortin began writing The Exorcism in 2019, setting it cleverly as a movie, “The Georgetown Project”, within a movie about the making of a film eerily like The Exorcist in which the demons start to take over, particularly for the film’s leading man, Tony Miller (the last name no accident), played by Russell Crowe as a down-on-his-luck former action star beset with alcoholism and drug use because of his own demons after feeling guilty for abandoning his wife during her fatal illness, and their teen daughter Lee (Ryan Simpkins). Trying to make a professional and personal comeback, he auditions for the role of Father Arlington, the exorcist in a new film being directed by a rather tyrannical filmmaker, Peter (the middle name of 1973 film’s writer, heh heh), played by Adam Goldberg. Peter is out for authenticity and basically psychologically tortures Tony into giving him the performance he craves. As we learn in the film’s creepy opening, the original actor cast in the role mysteriously dies on the set and had to be quickly replaced. The curse is on. Or is it?

Miller and Fortin are looking for much more here than a standard exorcism film though, and much is made of Tony’s renewed attempts to win back the love and trust of his 16-year-old daughter as circumstances bring them back together and she begins to notice his crumbling condition, helping him not only at home but also on set as a production assistant. Real-life problems merge with reel-life problems as Tony’s immersion into hi character takes on unforeseen dimensions and, well, terror.

Crowe lifts this material significantly, even if it might appear to be a paycheck movie for this celebrated Oscar winner. Just a year after his starring role as a real-life Vatican priest and exorcist in the underrated The Pope’s Exorcist he is back in the genre; but fear not, it is demonstrably different as we watch Tony’s own demons get out of hand. Unfortunately for the latest film, though, it also falls prey to the tropes of the genre and sails out of control in the final third, thereby squandering its intriguing premise and succumbing to the suits who demand the stereotypical frights for this kind of movie.

Goldberg, perhaps morphing into the kind of demanding director the late great Friedkin was rumored to be in making his masterpiece, is fitfully amusing as a filmmaker with only his own needs on his mind, much to dismay of his star. Sam Worthington as Joe, a co-star who plays the sidekick for Tony, is sadly given little to work with here, as is the lively Chloe Bailey as another co-star and musician. David Hyde Pierce is earnest to a fault as the priest hired as a consultant for the film, but the character doesn’t quite seem to jell.

In the end, The Exorcism, despite the best efforts of Crowe and the initial promise of taking the familiar into unfamiliar territory, just doesn’t quite jell itself, but I will give it an Amen for the game effort.

Producers for the Miramax production are Kevin Williamson (Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer), Bill Block and Ben Fast.

Title: The Exorcism
Distributor: Vertical
Release date: June 21, 2024
Director: Joshua John Miller
Screenwriters: Joshua John Miller and M.A. Fortin
Cast: Russell Crowe, Adam Goldberg, Ryan Simpkins, David Hyde Pierce, Chloe Bailey, Sam Worthington
Rating: R
Running time: 1 hr 33 min

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