Exorcism movies are arguably one of the hardest types of horror movies to pull of effectively. While the general set up for these films leaves no question as to who the good or bad guy is; most of the time they fall into the same cliche narrative structures all other exorcism movies have before them. Person gets marked by the devil for some undisclosed reason, devil haunts them, they become possessed, priest tries to save them, they usually fail and the world ends. It’s rare that horror movies in this genre stray from the pack. Enter The Vatican Tapes; another exorcism horror movie that feels like it’s following a simple checklist over a script.
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Seriously guys, this film is just plain hard to watch. And not in the Evil Dead/Saw it’s so grotesque I cannot turn my eyes away either. The Vatican Tapes follows girl next door Angela (Olivia Dudley) as she is possessed by the devil, in hopes of becoming the new Anti-Christ. Both her timid boyfriend Pete (John Amedori) and overly protective father Roger (Dougray Scott) attempt to save her, enlisting the help of priest Father Lozano. (Michael Pena) As you can guess, things go down hill quickly, eventually leading the group to realize that this is a battle they probably cannot win. The story is as bare bones as it gets, lacking in any depth or complexity. Their is a germ of a good idea near the end when the “twist” is revealed, but the film fails to capitalize on this idea and just ends suddenly. If I were to guess, I would say this was meant to be a set up for a sequel, yes lets all laugh at that idea together, and build upon the more interesting story it teased. However, with the more intriguing part of the film reserved for the last five minutes, we are forced to wade through 91 minutes of unimaginable boredom.
We never get a sense of connection to these characters, almost all of them coming off as utterly unlikable. I should be rooting for Angela to fight back this demon, but at a certain point I began cheering for the devil. Mainly because if the devil won I knew the movie would end faster.Her boyfriend and father are always at ends, never seeming to come together under the mutual understanding and love for Angela. The most important person in the world to them is being possessed, yet they bicker like children throughout the movie. Michael Pena’s character looks like he had a more interesting backstory, yet it looked like it was cut because “we gotta show more scary images on screen.” In fact, that is one of the general problems with The Vatican Tapes is that the film fails to establish any sense of connection we might have with the characters. Audiences need to vicariously live through the characters in a horror movie if we are to feel any real fear. If the film fails to set up any real backstory for 90% of their characters then there is an extreme disconnect between them and the actual monsters.It doesn’t help that all of the actors look bored out of their minds; with most of the dialogue feeling way more forced then organic.
The Vatican Tapes‘ biggest sin is that it fails to form any sort of tension or fear at all, assuming that a few jump scares is enough. There is never a point of suspense, instead director Mark Neveldine favors incredibly close up camera shots, that take you more out of the scene then in it. It’s this odd choice that handicaps The Vatican Tapes ability to draw viewers in, instead pointing the camera at objects in an attempt to tell us what is scary and what isn’t. This choice of camera angles, feels as if the movie cannot trust its’ own audience. Instead favoring to directly tell us what to be afraid of, refusing to give anyone a chance to be sucked into the atmosphere. His style is unbelievably frustrating, coming off more as a cover up for poor acting and cinematography.
As the name suggests, this film does involve a lot of security camera footage that captures the events unfolding. Which could make for an interesting blending of styles between fast and loose found footage films and a more traditional cinematography. It’s an interesting idea, and explains how The Vatican could know about various possessions around the world. Sadly this never truly clicks, coming off as just plain awkward. The movie dragging you away at the first sense of emersion to watch everything in super close camera shots. Did I mention the CGI? Thankfully this is used sparingly throughout the film, as the CGI effects look like the graphics from a mediocre Xbox 360 game.
Honestly, if you were debating seeing this movie don’t. This is as bad as mainstream horror can get without treading into Syfy territory. Really though, you have a better chance of closing your eyes and randomly selecting a horror movie on Netflix than watching this. If you want to see a scary possession movie, go watch The Taking of Deborah Logan or really..anything else. The Vatican Tapes isn’t possessed by the devil, but incompetence.
What did you think of The Vatican Tapes? Disagree or agree with any of my points? Sound off below!
A recent graduate of Arcadia University, Collin MacGregor is a freelance video editor and writer. He covers video games, television, and film for The Nerd Stash. Collin currently is the head film/television reviewer for the site.