Forty-two years after William Friedkin’s horror classic, it’s hard to get worked up over yet another cinematic depiction of demonic possession. Especially when, as in that 1973 film, the victim is a young woman and the tag-team exorcists include a young priest and an older priest. And yet, that’s what we get with The Vatican Tapes, representing the solo directorial debut of Mark Neveldine, previously known for his collaborations with Brian Taylor on such films as Crank, Gamer and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.[contentblock id=1 img=adsense.png]
This low-rent retread of tired material offers little to recommend it while managing to squander the talents of such actors as Dougray Scott, Djimon Hounsou and Michael Pena. As the title suggests, the film begins with a Vatican priest (Hounsou, apparently on hand to demonstrate that priests can be really, really hot) examining video footage of incidents of demonic possession, occasionally freeze-framing the action to spot images of the offending antichrist.
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We’re then introduced to Angela (Olivia Taylor Dudley)—the name is presumably deliberately ironic—a seemingly normal 27-year-old woman with a loving father (Scott) and an attentive boyfriend (John Patrick Amedori). Her trouble begins when she slices her finger while cutting her birthday cake, leading to a quick trip to the hospital for stiches. While traveling home, a raven bursts through a bus window and attacks her hand, causing further damage.[contentblock id=2 img=adsense.png]
Later, suffering from disorientation, she gets into a car accident and lands in the hospital in a months-long coma, attracting the interest of Iraq War veteran priest Father Lozano (Pena). Given up for dead by her doctors, she eventually flatlines, only to miraculously come back to life. And that’s when all hell breaks loose, with Angela nearly drowning a baby; whispering something to her fellow patients that causes them to become violent; inducing a detective to kill himself and causing the roof to fall in on a hapless orderly.
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The mayhem leads to the inevitable exorcism, performed by the neophyte Lozano with the assistance of a veteran Vatican cardinal (Peter Andersson) who knows from exorcisms since he was once possessed himself. The familiar tropes are there–vomiting (although not of the impressive projectile variety), guttural speaking in a foreign language—as well as some new ones, including Angela displaying the signs of stigmata and coughing up three perfectly formed eggs.[contentblock id=3 img=adsense.png]
“They represent the Holy Trinity,” the cardinal says, before helpfully adding, presumably for the benefit of non-Christian audience members, “the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.” Director Neveldine, who displayed a real flair for kinetic action sequences in his previous films, has staged the proceedings with remarkably little tension, with the exorcism itself being not much more exciting than watching your local priest deliver communion.
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Everyone involved seems thoroughly bored, especially Pena, who looks like he’s desperate to tear off his too-tight collar. The frequent use throughout the film of such devices as cell phone and surveillance footage, reminiscent of Sidney Lumet’s underrated The Anderson Tapes, adds little more than visual distraction. The screenplay by Christopher Borrelli and Michael C. Martin does at least offer a nifty climactic plot twist, the effectiveness of which is undercut by the sickening feeling that it sets up the premise for a sequel.