The Pope’s Exorcist (2023) Explained

An Average Movie-Goer’s Review

Spoilers! If you don’t want spoilers – check out the Spoiler-Free post

The Pope's Exorcist 2023 Explained Poster

I love horror movies and if I’m going to watch them anyway, why not write an entertaining/funny review from the POV of an average movie-goer and not a professional critic.

Today we’re looking at 2023’s The Pope’s Exorcist

In 1987, Father Amorth (Russell Crowe) is assigned a case that will force him to overcome his past in order to save a family from a powerful demon.

Is The Pope’s Exorcist Based on a True Story?

No, while Father Gabriele Amorth is a real person who was the chief exorcist, none of the events depicted in the movie actually happened. The Pope’s Exorcist also references historical events like the Spanish Inquisition but referencing that it was a dark time in history is about as accurate as it gets.

Amorth’s personality, the family in trouble, the location of the movie, and the events at the Vatican are all fiction. The cases depicted in the movie are said to be inspired by portions of Amorth’s journals but it seems the writers pulled bits and pieces and made up the rest.

Is The Pope’s Exorcist Scary?

The Pope’s Exorcist is not scary and while it does have some moments that will make you recoil nothing will actually make you scared of demons. Interestingly because of how the events of the movie play out it starts to teeter into fantasy and it loses any sense of terror that it started to instill.

Overall you won’t leave The Pope’s Exorcist afraid of anything except if you’re a history major and you just saw the part where the Spanish Inquisition is discussed.

The Pope’s Exorcist Full Plot Summary:

The film opens with a quote from the main character of this film, Father Gabriele Amorth the Chief Exorcist of the Vatican from 1986-2016: 

“When we jeer at the Devil and tell ourselves that he does not exist, that is when he is happiest.” 

We cut to Father Gabriel Amorth (Russell Crowe) on June 4th, 1987 arriving at a small village in Tropea, Italy to investigate a possible demonic possession. Ballsy move to provide a quote by the main character with a date decades later than the setting of this movie. So I guess he’s got plot armor throughout the whole film.

Russell Crowe as Father Gabriel Amorth in 2023's The Pope's Exorcist
Plot armor: When dealing with demons, it’s the only protection stronger than the belief in God

The local priest, Father Gianni, tells Amorth the possessed man is able to speak in a language he never spoke before… English! DUN DUN DUNNN. After learning the family of the victim owns a television, it’s implied that Amorth doesn’t believe it’s a real possession. 

Before entering the possessed man’s room, Amorth asks Father Gianni to bring in a large pig he spotted with a local farmer outside. Amorth enters the room and, despite the dude looking pretty possessed, he calls bullshit on the whole thing. The possessed man tells him he is Satan but when asked to describe hell, the man avoids answering the question.

Amorth then takes a page from Mohammed Ali’s book and asks “What’s my name?” The ‘possessed’ man once again avoids the question.

Amorth tricks a demon into entering a pig in 2023's The Pope's Exorcist
“Well, see, you don’t wear nametags and I… hey is that a pig behind you?”

Amorth questions why Satan would possess a random guy in a small village instead of someone more influential. ‘Satan’ basically responds with an “I just didn’t feel like it but I could totally do it, trust me bro”. Amorth once again calls bullshit, asks whether he could possess him or the local priest, and bets that he can’t even possess the pig.

‘Satan’ gets angry at the lack of respect and starts convulsing as Amorth continues to egg him on to possess the pig. As the demon leaves the man’s body and enters the animal, the local farmer shoots the pig in the head, killing the demon.

To quickly explain what’s happened here, Amorth has figured out that the “possessed” man isn’t actually possessed but mentally ill. The man believes he is possessed so Amorth played along to help him believe the demon had left his body. By convincing the man the demon transferred into the pig and then killing the pig, the man would believe that the demon was also dead.

Father Gianni is covered in the pig's blood in 2023's The Pope's Exorcist
Pictured Above: Father Gianni acting like he’s never seen a pig sacrificed at an exorcism

Title screen and we cut to one month later on July 1st, 1987 in Spain where we meet our main family from the United States moving to a large closed abbey. We have teenager Amy (Laurel Marsden) who is not happy about the move, her younger brother Henry (Peter Desouza-Feighoney) who has not spoken since their father’s death a year prior, and finally her mother Julia (Alex Essoe). 

We quickly learn Julia has moved the family to the abbey that belonged to her husband’s family for generations so they can live there while it’s being repaired. Once the repairs are complete it’ll be sold and they’ll have enough money to move back to the United States.

Laurel Marsden as Amy, Peter Desouza-Feighoney as Henry, and Alex Essoe as Julia in 2023's The Pope's Exorcist
That side eye tells you everything you need to know about Amy’s feelings

Inside, Julia meets with Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto) who just happens to be there getting a tour of the abbey courtesy of the foreman. Sure, show the random priest around. After Amy has a cigarette- because big tobacco was killing it in the 80s- she brushes her teeth and doesn’t notice a demon at the door. 

This turns out to just be Henry wearing a random mask he found but, that shit is still weird. It’s implied that this is typical behavior for him since Amy doesn’t seem freaked out by it. After he leaves there’s some random knocking on her wall which she assumes is Henry.

A short time later Henry is wandering around the basement of the abbey and spots a hole in one of the walls. Peeking through, he sees a weird sigil on another wall that starts to crack on its own.

The following day, in Rome, Amorth is seen riding his Vespa (because how else will we know he’s supposed to be cool?) and arrives at the church. Turns out Father Gianni is a snitch and complained the exorcism in Tropea felt more like an animal sacrifice. If you didn’t know, animal sacrifices and calling on Satan are big blood-drenched flags in the eyes of the catholic church.

Amorth is questioned by 5 higher-ups in the church but only two are important enough to have speaking roles, Cardinal Sullivan (Ryan O’Grady) and Bishop Lumumba (Cornell John). As the hearing starts Sullivan demands Amorth speak in English as this movie will have a wide release in the United States… I mean, because it’s a formal hearing. 

Sullivan starts by making sure the stick up his butt is still there and calls Amorth’s exorcism unsanctioned and basically highly inappropriate. Amorth responds that most of the cases assigned to him aren’t actually possessions but cases of mental illness.

Lumumba, who is shown to be close friends with Amorth, defends him and states that 98% of the cases Amorth gets, he refers to doctors and psychologists. When Sullivan questions the other two percent, Amorth says those are what science and doctors can’t explain, they’re something “evil”.

Sullivan snickers at this and accuses Amorth of doing more damage to the church and the people with his antics. He then tells Amorth that he’s basically going to be fired as his position will no longer exist.

Amorth faces a hearing led by Cardinal Sullivan and Bishop Lumumba in 2023's The Pope's Exorcist
Here we have Lumumba at the far left and Sullivan displaying how big the stick up his own ass is

Amorth sarcastically asks if that means evil no longer exists and heads out to leave but when Sullivan says he has more questions, Amorth loses his cool. He insinuates that this isn’t just about the Tropea exorcism and actually, about a dead girl named Rosaria Velendez whom he recently wrote an article about in a magazine.

Sullivan demands he show respect and Amorth does this by yelling, stating that if they have a problem with him, they can go to his boss; the Pope. As Amorth storms out of the room, someone casually yells out that the pope is sick which feels like information that was shoehorned in at the last second.

The following day at Julia’s Abbey, two construction workers find the same crack in the wall Henry found and peek in. Unable to see what’s inside, one of them lights a flare and it instantly ignites into a fireball.

Construction workers find a gas deposit in the abbey in 2023's The Pope's Exorcist
Listen if the devil can now cast fireballs, I think it’s game over

We cut to a bit later as the men are wheeled out to an ambulance and the foreman tells Julia it was a gas deposit. Due to this, he deems it unsafe to continue the work and he ends the construction. He could also supply his men with flashlights instead of flares for light but that would be too logical.

Meanwhile, we cut back to where the explosion happened and the crack on the sigil grows as we hear growling. Upstairs, Henry starts convulsing which is the first sign of a possession if you’ve seen movies before. Amy calls out for Julia and as she arrives, Henry sits up in the bed and tells them they’re all going to die.

Oh, and he also scratches his face hard enough to draw blood. Tip; If you’re planning on getting possessed, trim those nails.

Henry becomes possessed in 2023's The Pope's Exorcist
… at least he’s talking again

We get a quick scene with the family at the hospital and a doctor saying “All the tests came back normal so, fuck if I know.” Though he does give Julia a syringe and a vial of a sedative in case she needs to stop Henry from convulsing… no training on how to use it though. Later at the house, a possessed Henry lifts his shirt up to reveal the word “Hate” cut into his stomach and demands to see “the priest”. 

A short time later Father Esquibel arrives at the house and agrees to check on Henry. Moments after entering his room, Esquibel is thrown out of it and into a glass cabinet. Demon-Henry then yells that it’s the “wrong fucking priest”. Something that could have been avoided had he specified which priest he was looking for.

In Rome, Amorth visits the Pope (Franco Nero) who says the legend of the 200 angels cast out of heaven and into Earth’s soil where they became demons is no fairytale. The implication is that there are 200 specific locations on Earth where true evil resides. Basically, he setting up sequels for this movie before we’re even halfway through.

The Pope then assigns Amorth Henry’s case and says the abbey has a dark past. Before he goes, Amorth reviews Henry’s file and the big P tells him he’ll continue researching the abbey while he’s away.

Sometime later (the movie has randomly stopped giving us dates), Amorth arrives at the abbey, meets Father Esquibel, has a shot of whiskey because he’s the cool unconventional exorcist, and then meets with Julia and Amy.

Weirdly Julia is confused as to why the church has taken an interest in Henry, as if she didn’t notice the demonic voice, throwing a priest across a room, or the scars that spell out words but, I guess, boys will be boys.

After Amorth asks to simply see Henry and she can do what she wants with his opinion, Julia reluctantly agrees. In the room, Amorth takes out a sigil and waves it in front of Henry’s eyes. This causes him to fall into a sort of trance where he’s forced to follow the sigil. His irises then separate revealing a demon.

Now with confirmation he’s dealing with a real demon, Amorth attempts to trick it into revealing its name as that will give him power over it but this demon is a bit smarter than that. Demon-Henry calls Amorth Gabriel, revealing he knows his name, and tells him he also knows what he’s afraid of. Flashback time! 

We see a quick scene of Amorth as a young man in the war walking through a war-torn town when his squad is ambushed. In order to avoid capture, he rubs blood on himself and pretends to be dead. The demon then repeats what one of the opposing German soldiers yelled out as they were searching the dead, “show yourself, coward.”

Back in the present, Amorth is shocked the demon knows so much but he doesn’t have time to ponder as Demon-Henry vomits out a small red bird; and that’s a Grade-A “What the Fuck” moment. 

Henry vomits up a red bird in 2023's The Pope's Exorcist
Demons need a new meal plan, have they tried Hello Fresh? … hashtag not sponsored

As Amorth rushes out of the room, Demon-Henry tells him “Beware, your sins will seek you out” which is like his catchphrase or something. Amorth informs Julia that her son is possessed and asks if he’s suffered any trauma recently… besides the whole being a meat-suit for a demon.

Apparently experiencing trauma can create a gateway for the devil and suffering will make a soul desperate for a connection that a demon can exploit. Julia reveals that her husband died in a car accident and Henry was in the car. Henry saw his father get impaled through the head by a pipe that killed him and splattered his brains.

Amorth learns of Henry's past trauma in 2023's The Pope's Exorcist
“Well shit, yea that’ll do it.”

Later, Amorth and Esquibel prepare to perform the exorcism and this scene has a bit of levity. Amorth tells Esquibel he must confess his sins before they go in but when Esquibel says he hasn’t been to confessional in 8 months, Amorth just forgives all of them as long as he’s “very, very, very, sorry.” 

He tells Esquibel his only job is to pray over and over and not be tempted to speak with the demon. Finally, he asks Esquibel if he knows any jokes, and when he replies no, Amorth tells him to learn some since the devil hates jokes. That’s how you know this website is demon-free!

As the two start the exorcism, Demon-Henry taunts Esquibel and you just know Esquibel is going to crack real soon. After reciting some prayers, the power goes out and Rosaria Velendez (Bianca Bardoe) appears in front of Amorth. The first thing she says is “Your sins will seek you out” so she’s a hallucination caused by Demon-Henry.

Rosaria insinuates that Amorth still feels guilty for letting her die and that’s all we get for that backstory for now. Amorth says her soul rest in peace but Rosaria gets all demonic and claims she’s in hell before she disappears.

Bianca Bardoe as Roasaria Velendez in 2023's The Pope's Exorcist
“Before I go, your sins will seek you out. Sorry, it’s like a thing I have to say, it’s in the contract or something.”

The power returns and Demon-Henry starts taunting Esquibel again, revealing that Esquibel is sleeping with the daughter of one of his congregation named Adella. Because of that whole ‘priest no sex’ thing, that’s a sin. Esquibel has a totally rational response and starts choking out the possessed child until Amorth pulls him away.

Seeing as they screwed up big time, Amorth ends the exorcism and they both leave the room. Before Amorth leaves, Demon-Henry tells him he has taken the bait, implying the demon specifically wanted Amorth there which… we already knew since Demon-Henry said Esquibel was the wrong priest earlier. I don’t know why it’s being treated like some big revelation all of a sudden.

In the hallway, a tearful Esquibel confesses that Adella was the love of his life and she asked him to leave the priesthood for her. Esquibel had no intention of doing that but lied to Adella so the relationship could continue.

After Amorth forgives his sins, he gives Esquibel a prayer to learn in Latin that will help them on their next exorcism attempt. Almost like the movie couldn’t figure out how to bridge the next scene, Amorth suddenly and randomly realizes something and tells Esquibel to watch Henry as he runs outside to check something.

In the courtyard, Amorth finds a large well with the insignia of the Vatican. Pulling off the cover, he discovers rows and rows of skulls going all the way down to the bottom. Since no one told him about the gas deposit, Amorth lights a cloth on fire and drops it down the well to get a better look which results in a huge fireball. 

Meanwhile shit starts going down in the abbey. As Esquibel prays outside of Henry’s room, he hears Henry cry out for help. Entering the room he sees Demon-Henry lying motionless on the bed and for some reason decides to get real close to him. He even attempts to put his ear to his chest to hear if he’s still alive! Unsurprisingly Demon-Henry wakes up and Mike Tyson’s Esquibel’s ear.

Concurrently Julia is asleep in her room when we see an arm reach out from behind her and hug her. Forgetting her husband is super dead this doesn’t phase the asleep Julia until the arm attempts to drag her into her bed. 

And let’s not forget Amy, who is hiding under the blankets in her bed when she starts hearing loud banging on her walls. Proving that hiding under blankets isn’t safe, Amy is launched across the room and into a wall. Getting up, she runs into a nearby closet as scratch marks appear on the walls and something bangs on the door.

Amorth enters the abbey and finds a bloody Esquibel who has escaped Demon-Henry’s grasp. Hearing Amy and Julia screaming, the two rush into their rooms and save them both. A short time later Amy and Julia have been relocated to the abbey’s chapel and Amorth takes Esquibel to the well to show him that weird shit he found.

Turns out the skulls lining the well wall were those of the victims of the Spanish Inquisition and no one expected that. Amorth calls this the darkest time in the church’s history and that’s fair. If you don’t know the Spanish Inquisition, that was a time when the Spanish monarchy and the Vatican sent out investigators between the 15th and 19th centuries. 

Their main focus was to root out anyone who didn’t follow the church and they weren’t polite about it. By that I mean they expelled those of other faiths, had sham trials with accusations without basis that led to mass incarceration, tortured thousands, and they murdered a lot of people too.

Figuring there’s something under the abbey, Amorth and Esquibel head to the basement and find the crack in the wall. Amorth breaks through the wall and says the sigil is that of the Vatican denoting a door. The two open the door and find a library along with some weirder shit like a corpse trapped in a cage.

Amorth and Esquibel find the tomb of the cardinal in 2023's The Pope's Exorcist
This is never a good sign

Amorth figures out the corpse is that of a Cardinal of the church AKA someone pretty important. Esquibel then finds a sealed door and Amorth finds the key in the stomach of the corpse. Using it, the two enter a larger tomb with another corpse sitting on a chair and Amorth determines the cardinal was trying to keep something locked away.

Investigating the corpse on the chair, Amorth discovers it’s that of The Friar of Ojada, one of the greatest exorcists of all time and the man who convinced the Queen to start the Spanish Inquisition. 

Reading his journal, the two learn that the Friar and the Cardinal became possessed by the demon currently possessing Henry and it can possess multiple people at once. In order to prevent the evil from escaping and doing more harm, the cardinal and the friar locked themselves in their respective tombs under the abbey.

Meanwhile, back in Rome, the Pope who is apparently the slowest researcher of all time has discovered a secret letter in a book about the abbey. The letter is from the Cardinal telling the Pope, at the time, everything we just learned meaning the church knew of this and covered it up.

Just as the pope learns this, he has a heart attack and is rushed to the hospital… why are these scenes even here? Back at the tomb, Amorth also realizes the church covered all of this up because the Friar was the one who started the Inquisition after he was possessed. This means the Spanish Inquisition and the darkest time in the history of the church were caused by the devil and not god…

So basically the movie is saying all the centuries of actual torture, persecution, and killing that took place was the devil’s fault, not the church’s. Did I say basically? I mean literally, it’s a literal line in the movie. This wouldn’t be such a big deal but the movie is about a real person, Father Amorth, and it supposedly draws inspiration from some of his ‘real’ cases. 

The journal tells Father Amorth that the friar was possessed and the spanish inquisition was the fault of the devil in 2023's The Pope's Exorcist
Did… did the demon just absolve the church of its sins?

In the journal, Amorth finds a map and realizes the abbey is one of the 200 places where an angel was cast out and became a demon. The demon’s plan is to find the other 200 places and raise an army to take over the church. 

While all this exposition is happening, Julia wakes up in the chapel alone and hears Amy laughing in the distance. Heading upstairs she fills the syringe with the sedative and finds Amy in Henry’s room sitting next to him like he’s not a literal demon. 

Turns out the demon is now controlling Amy and starts speaking through both Amy and Henry. Demon-Henry telekinetically throws Julia into a mirror and lifts Amy in the air. He then forces Julia to watch as he twists Amy’s neck completely around.

Down in the tomb Amorth and Esquibel discover the demon’s name, Asmodeus, and say it out loud. This causes Asmodeus to lose control over Julia and Amy who, after just having her neck twisted 180 degrees, is perfectly fine. As Asmodeus screams out in pain, Amy grabs the sedative and sticks it into Asmodeus-Henry’s neck, knocking him out. 

Back in the tomb Amorth and Esquibel realize Asmodeus plans to possess Amorth in order to infiltrate the church as he did to the Friar back in the 15th century. Amorth is confident that since they now know his name, they can defeat him but first he must confess his sins. 

We finally get the full story on Rosaria. Several years ago Rosaria was a young woman living in the Vatican City who claimed to be possessed. The case was assigned to Amorth but upon meeting her, he quickly determined she wasn’t actually possessed so he decided not to help her. 

Because of this, Rosaria jumped off a roof and killed herself. Later, Amorth discovered that she was being sexually abused by members of the church and the church covered it up. So while she wasn’t actually possessed, if Amorth had spent more time with her and tried to help he could have potentially saved her life. 

From that day forward Amorth vowed to help all those assigned to him even if he determines they are not actually possessed.

Amorth finds Rosaria's body in 2023's The Pope's Exorcist
I just like this shot

Esquibel absolves Amorth of his sins and the two rejoin Amy and Julia in the abbey to start the exorcism. As the exorcism begins, Asmodeus attempts to distract Amorth and Esquibel with visions of Rosaria and Adella but the two overcome and continue their prayers. 

For a moment it appears the exorcism has worked but the words “God is not here” appear on Henry’s stomach. Amorth, Esquibel, and Julia look over to Amy and discover she is now fully possessed. Amy’s body contorts and she starts crawling along the walls and ceiling.

Amy becomes possessed and spider walks in 2023's The Pope's Exorcist
Can’t have a demon movie without someone doing a spider-crawl

Possessed-Amy lunges at Julia, throwing her into the bathroom while Amorth is pinned to a cabinet and Esquibel is lifted in the air; choked by his sash. Seeing as there is no other choice, Amorth tells Asmodeus to take him instead and Asmodeus immediately leaves Henry’s body and possesses him.

In the few moments Amorth is able to contain Asmodeus within himself, he orders Esquibel to get the family out of the house. Embodying the saying “You don’t gotta tell me twice”, Esquibel, Henry, Amy, and Julia rush out of the house as Asmodeus starts to take over Amorth.

Amorth continues to fight and even attempts to hang himself but the demon saves him by throwing him across the room, breaking the rope. These scenes are a bit weird as the demon is inside Amorth but we hear its voice as if it’s a disembodied voice talking to Amorth. Why not have the demon speak through Amorth as it was doing when possessing Henry?

Amorth continues to fight the demon and heads to the basement where hundreds of bats randomly appear and swarm around him.

Father Amorth agrees to become possessed and wanders in to the tomb in 2023's The Pope's Exorcist
Hold up… have I been tricked into watching another Batman origin movie?!

As Julia drives off with the children, Esquibel enters the abbey to save Amorth. Finding him in the tomb, Esquibel discovers Asmodeus is now entirely in control. Esquibel begs Amorth to fight and starts performing an exorcism. 

Able to gain some control, Amorth also starts praying, and random sigils around the two light up which I think means it’s working. 

Amorth is thrown across the room and Asmodeus appears from behind a pillar taking the form of Rosaria. As Asmodeus-Rosaria attacks Amorth, a naked blood blood-covered Adella (Carrie Munro) attacks Esquibel.

Esquibel is able to fight off Adella and places a sigil on her head causing her body to produce boils and then explode. Esquibel quickly tosses a cross to Amorth who places it on Asmodeus-Rosaria’s head forcing her to fall back into a pool of water that transforms into a fiery pit.

The two priests then exorcise Asmodeus, defeating the powerful demon and sending it back to hell.

The two then celebrate with some jokes and a shot of whiskey. A few days later Amorth takes Esquibel to meet the Pope and they learn Cardinal Sullivan has gone on sabbatical and Lumumba has taken his job.

Lumumba takes Amorth and Esquibel to a library where dozens of priests are working to decipher the locations of the other 199 sites where the demons reside. In the most sequel bait-iest moment I’ve seen recently, he asks Amorth to take on the task of exorcising the demons and Amorth asks Esquibel to join him.

The film ends with Amorth walking the streets and text appearing telling us that he continued to serve the church until his death in 2016.

The Pope’s Exorcist Spoiler Review:

The Pope’s Exorcist is great but not a great horror movie. It ends up being way more comedic and entertaining than I expected it to be and that’s mainly due to Russell Crowe’s performance.

As the joke-cracking, non-serious exorcist you can’t help but laugh at his antics and how he goes about situations. Honestly, I would compare it to watching Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man (2008). The rest of the cast is pretty good if not forgettable but that’s not their fault. The script didn’t have much for them to do and even Daniel Zovatto, who does a great job, is outshined by Crowe.

As a horror movie I think it missed its mark, it felt more like it was an origin movie for superhero priests who fight demons. The movie then just made sure to check off the cliche horror tropes like a possessed child, spider crawling possessed child, words scratched into the body, banging on walls, scratch marks, etc.

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. You could reduce plenty of good horror into its tropes but for The Popes Exorcist it felt like the horror was third behind establishing sequels and a great character… and that’s okay if done right.

It’s also probably due to the establishing sequels bit that the movie starts to feel very ungrounded, there’s a tonal shift where it goes from a grounded exorcism film to the fate of the whole world being in Amorth’s hand at the end. 

Even the final act where we hear Asmodeus talking like some narrator feels more comical than horror, I get that we’re supposed to be hearing it as if we’re in Amorth’s head but it just feels off especially since we don’t hear Amorth’s thoughts. Amorth talks out loud as if he’s talking to the demon so why not just have made the Amorth respond in the demon’s voice to distinguish the two?

My biggest gripe with the film though, is the revisionist history it tries to pull. At one point Amorth finds a journal of a 15th century exorcist and learns the Spanish Inquisition was the fault of the devil and not the church.

Had this been a completely fictional movie that wouldn’t be a big deal but this movie is supposedly based on real cases by a real person so to claim that all the fucked up things the church actually did in real-life were the work of the devil, felt like some random bullshit that was not needed.

To be fair I do love history so that’s why that part bothered me so much but even then, it doesn’t ruin the movie. Overall The Pope’s Exorcist is highly entertaining and I recommend everyone give it a watch if you’re looking for a non-scary horror movie with an extremely likable main character.


Stuff to Ignore

Rotten Tomatoes – 81%

Metacritic – 45

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