Directed by: Joshua John Miller
Written by: Joshua John Miller, M.A. Fortin
Starring: Russell Crowe, Sam Worthington, Ryan Simpkins, Chloe Bailey, David Hyde Pierce, Marcenae Lynette
Released: June 13, 2024
Grade: C+

The Exorcism

The story behind The Exorcist remains one of the wildest to come out of Hollywood.  Many thought the 1971 novel to be too challenging/graphic for the big screen, but director William Friedkin (The French Connection) gave it a crack.  Meddling studio executives didn’t give the finished product much hope when it was released in just 24 theatres across the United States in December 1973.  Word of mouth spread quickly!  It became the highest grossing movie of the year and the first horror film to be nominated at the Academy Awards for best picture (losing to The Sting).

Despite the incredible financial success, folks still talk about a purported “curse” which plagued the production in 1972.  Two actors died before the film was finished, stars Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair suffered back injuries, crew members lost body parts in workplace accidents, a bird started a fire which destroyed film sets, and the shoot took four months longer than originally budgeted.  Was this all the result of loose safety practices… or were sinister, supernatural forces at play?

The late Jason Miller played Father Damien Karras in The Exorcist (he earned an Oscar nom for his performance) and now, his eldest son has made a movie loosely inspired by the troubled production.  It marks the feature film debut of director Joshua John Miller and ironically, it’s been through its own share of problems.  The movie was shot back in 2019 (in case you’re wondering why actors look younger) and sat in “development hell” throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finally getting its chance in cinemas, The Exorcism stars Australian Russell Crowe as Anthony Miller, a fictitious character named in honour of Joshua’s dad.  He’s a washed-up actor looking for a fresh start having battled lengthy alcohol and drug problems, and the unexpected death of his wife two years earlier.  The director of a low-budget exorcism flick, entitled “The Georgetown Project”, has taken a chance on the troubled, line-forgetting actor and cast him in the lead role – a priest trying to extract a demonic presence from a young woman.  Suffice to say the shoot doesn’t go as smoothly as planned.  Weird things start occurring on set and the patience of both the cast and crew will be tested…

It’s not a bad concept.  The genre has been well-trodden over the past few decades and so I like the twisting idea of an exorcism movie about an exorcism movie.  The execution is lacking, however.  Events play out as expected, there are very few genuine surprises, and the casting doesn’t work.  Sam Worthington (Avatar) and David Hyde Pierce (Frasier) are accomplished actors who feel ill-suited to their small supporting roles.  Ryan Simpkins (The House) gets a decent chunk of screen time as Crowe’s daughter and while she isn’t given much to do, she’s the film’s most interesting character.

Adding to the film’s woes is that Crowe shot an unrelated horror movie in 2022, The Pope’s Exorcist, which was released in mid-2023, made a nice return at the box-office, and has a sequel in development.  When it comes to Russell Crowe and exorcisms, that’s the movie audiences are more likely to remember.