Review: The Power Of Russell Crowe Compels You To Watch THE EXORCISM

3 out of 5 stars

There have been hundreds of films about exorcisms in the wake of the monumental success of the late William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. Friedkin’s 1973 adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s novel was a phenomenon and countless filmmaker’s have chased success in the wake of that classic film. The truth is that most of these priests versus demons pics are terrible. That’s not to say that some of these films haven’t been good, but most are cheap, derivative and monumentally uninteresting. 

Strangely, Russell Crowe is starring in his second film about an exorcist in as many years. First-up was 2023’s The Pope’s Exorcist, a fictional film based on real life priest Gabriele Amorth. Coincidentally William Friedkin happened to make a documentary about Amorth in 2017 called The Devil and Father Amorth. Now comes The Exorcism (actually shot before the other dog collar chiller), a film which also has ties to Friedkin and his 1973 horror. Not only is it about an actor (Crowe) who is starring in a film which is appears to be based on The Exorcist (right down to recreating that film’s sets) but it’s also directed and co-written by Joshua John Miller, the son of Jason Miller – the actor who played Father Karras in Friedkin’s film. Coincidence? I think not. 

It’s this Friedkin connection which is The Exorcism’s greatest strength. Crowe is Anthony Miller (natch!) an actor with personal demons recovering from a drink and drug habit and the death of his wife. He gets a shot at rejuvenating his career by taking the lead role (essentially Max Von Sydow’s Father Merrin) in a film called The Georgetown Project (this film’s original title) when the actor originally cast meets an untimely end. It looks like his new job and a reconciliation with his estranged daughter Lee (Ryan Simpkins) will help get his life back on track. Before long he’s getting berated by the film’s director (Adam Goldberg) and as the pressure rises, it looks like the demons within Miller more literal than figurative. That’s when the film’s technical advisor, Father Conor (David Hyde Pierce) must step in. 

The early parts of The Exorcism work best. Crowe’s performance is strong and he sells his role as an embattled actor well on the on-set shenanigans help differentiate it from similar movies. Crowe is leaning into interesting character work in this stage of his career, now a quarter of a century removed from Gladiator and The Exorcism is yet another off-beat role. Ryan Simpkin’s works well opposite Crowe and there’s a nice back and forth between the two as father and daughter. Sam Worthington has a small role (and pretty thankless) turn as Crowe’s co-star, but its Fraser star David Hyde Pierce so stands out as the film’s true exorcist. 

Things ultimately fall apart in the last act when the demonic possession has to come to the fore and it ticks all the usual boxes that the power of Christ compels it to. But if anyone is going to sell the madness and scare the hell into you, then it’s Crowe and his commitment does a lot of heavy lifting to make it all worthwhile.  

The Exorcism is entertaining hokum with many nods to William Friedkin’s genre definer. Russell Crowe embraces his part with gusto and while it goes off the rails at the end, the lead-up is strong – and it’s still better than 99% of all other exorcism movies.