The Vatican Tapes (2015)

For 2,000 years the Vatican has recorded evidence of evil. May God have mercy on our souls.

To be quite blunt, the last thing the world needed was another offering where we’re subjected to seeing a young woman speak in a creaky voice and perform weird gymnastics while possessed by a demon that powerless priests can’t draw out. Seriously, what is it with studios itching to release demonically infused cinema these days? Over the past few years we’ve seen the Eli Roth produced The Last Exorcism (2010), the controversial The Devil Inside (2012) and the Eric Bana starring Deliver Us From Evil (2014), each failing to set the box office alight with its evil aura whilst reiterating the fact that religion can be a scary thing.

The Vatican Tapes is the latest installment in the ever-growing exorcism sub-genre with director Mark Neveldine struggling to summon a chilling end-of-the-world yarn by mixing found-footage elements together with your standard Hollywood style structure. It’s interesting to note that The Vatican Tapes actually started out as a found-footage project until the creative team (and the studio behind it) decided to veer more towards your customary narrative trajectory. With that said, it’s kinda ironic then to find out that the film’s opening montage — cut from archival footage that’s supposedly sourced from the titular library — along with its closing — which is mostly made up of news clips — are amongst it’s best moments, the rest playing out like an uninspired by-the-numbers exorcism account.

'You know how I stay fit? I exorcise.'
‘You know how I stay fit? I exorcise.’

The flick begins with a hodgepodge of extracts that detail the ‘supposed’ history of a secret Vatican archive that’s solely dedicated to documenting the long line of possessions and exorcisms that the Catholic Church have been covering up. Cut to suburban California where we’re introduced to Angela Holmes (Olivia Taylor Dudley), a young lady who’s preparing to celebrate her birthday with beau Pete (John Patrick Amedori). The day is interrupted when Angela’s dad Roger (Dougray Scott) pops by for a surprise visit, the two men seemingly uneasy around one another. The pair joins forces over a common cause when Angela slices her finger on a knife and requires a trip to the hospital. The cut however, is only the beginning of a systematic possession with a wicked entity taking over Angela’s body, transforming her into a maleficent force with a sway over the weak. Enter Father Lozano (Michael Peña) — a former soldier-turned-priest — who takes Angela’s case to Vatican City, where it triggers the curiosity of Cardinal Bruun (Peter Andersson), who eventually travels to the U.S. to confront the beast that has ravaged Angela to the point of no return.

Filmmaker Mark Neveldine has built a career for himself as one part of Neveldine/Taylor, the dudes responsible for the high-voltage Crank series (2006-09), with The Vatican Tapes marking the zany director’s first solo project. Alas, Neveldine, who’s jokingly been referred to as having ADD and widely known for whizzing about sets on rollerblades, plays it straight here, delivering a film that’s void of any creative energy or flair. Presented through a series of faux Vatican recordings mixed with conventional third person filmmaking techniques, The Vatican Tapes is all over the shop. For starters, a lot of the found-footage stuff makes no sense, narratively speaking. You see, we’re introduced to Angela through shots from her boyfriend’s phone, which the Vatican has somehow gotten a hold of — in any case, what does this early footage have to do with Angela’s possession? And why is it even in the Vatican’s hands? Furthermore, Neveldine’s usual stylistics — his extreme angles and whirling camerawork — scream desperation as opposed to innovation, the filmmaker trying to inject a smidgen of life into his wavering project.

Eyes Like Daggers
Eyes Like Daggers

Originally scripted by Christopher Borrelli — who also co-wrote the story before it was reworked by Michael C. Martin, Brooklyn’s Finest (2009) — the screenplay is another of the film’s big evils. Presenting events as if ticking them off an exorcism check-list, Angela is seen quenching her ever-growing thirst, instigating bird attacks, appearing in multiple locations at once and struggling to sit through her treatment with Dr. Richards (Kathleen Robertson) — every beat pretty much stolen from a better movie. The story actually does pick up towards the finale (as filmmakers try to pave way for a sequel), with Angela becoming a media sensation by means of her savior-like healing powers, the world craving to know more about this new supernatural redeemer, who’s swiftly gathering followers. It’s an attention-grabbing concept that should’ve been explored earlier. There’s also a fair bit of religious iconography scattered throughout the smorgasbord of clichés — for instance, a scene where Angela barfs three eggs is symbolic of a perverted trinity — as well as some interesting subtext, particularly in regards to the common misconception that certain folk make between Satan and the Anti-Christ (they’re two separate things and not one and the same).

The performances are disgusting; they’re about as off-putting as the green spew that rocketed out of Linda Blair’s mouth back in ’73. Look, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015), is a bona fide babe but this stunner doesn’t really cut it as a future harbinger of doom … again, as least she’s hot! Michael Peña, The Martian (2015), looks bored and awkward as Father Lozano, a former military man who took up the cloth after serving time in Iraq, Peña playing it way too straight. Over on the other side of the spectrum, Peter Andersson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), hams it up (big time) as Cardinal Bruun, a dude who employs a scorched-earth approach when it comes to dealing with spirits and whatnot. Then there’s Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond (2006). Why’s he even in this?

'I think there's been a clerical error ...'
‘I think there’s been a clerical error …’

As dull as it is, The Vatican Tapes actually fulfills what it sets out to do, director Neveldine slapping together a ho-hum possession flick, one that sports a confused production (mixing surveillance with traditional footage) and a serious lack of imagination and originality, the once-unorthodox filmmaker clearly comfortable in creating something we’ve all seen a dozen times before. Just a word of warning, those looking for a good exorcism film should really look elsewhere. *Sigh* I must confess, I actually miss seeing Jason Statham being tailed by a Steadicam.

2 / 5 – Average

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

The Vatican Tapes is released through eOne Films Australia