Originally released in 2015, The Vatican Tapes was probably lost in the shuffle because so many exorcism movies are being produced, as are movies using the directorial technique known as “found footage.” Although The Vatican Tapes does owe much to the exorcism genre and takes some advantage of the found-footage approach, it nevertheless tries a fresh approach to both. Although many have dismissed this movie, it is unlikely that such viewers and reviewers were willing to perceive the movie for what is was, instead of simply comparing it to films that that served as inspiration. The Vatican Tapes is actually a tense, terror-driven film, one that works hard to craft a sense of evil finally taking root in physical form at the end of days.
Written by Christopher Borrelli and Chris Morgan, with a screenplay by Borrelli and Michael C. Martin, The Vatican Tapes stars Olivia Taylor Dudley as Angela, a young woman who through a series of horrific events comes to realize that a latent personality exists within her benevolent spirit—it is the very essence of malevolence that is intertwined within her soul, both of whom occupy the same physical body.
The movie begins by showing that The Vatican has been keeping tabs on possession for a very long time. With the advent of video and later computers, The Vatican has taken advantage of the technology to chronicle the evolution of possession to perhaps one day predict the coming of the anti-Christ, which begins the end of days.
The movie then shifts to the ordinary life of Angela Holmes, who live with her boyfriend Pete (John Patrick Amedori) and is under the watchful eye of her father Roger (Dougray Scott). During a surprise birthday party, Angela suffers a cut to one her fingers, and it is this event that triggers a battle between the very core of Angela’s spirit. The physician in attendance does not do a good job with the stitches, and in an attempt to cover the botched job, gives Angela some medication that seemingly awakens something inside—and beside—her. At first it looks as if Angela is possessed by a demon, so Father Lorenzo (Michael Pena, in a standout performance), an ex-military man who gets along with Roger, attempts to help. Knowing that he is “outgunned,” Lorenzo seeks help from the American archdiocese, which in turn reaches out to The Vatican. In turn, The Vatican calls on two priests, Cardinal Bruun (Peter Andersson) and Vicar Imani (Djimon Hounsou), to investigate the matter. What follows is a series of revelations that lead to the unleashing of the anti-Christ, with none of the men of the church able to stand in its malevolence.
A superficial glance of The Vatican Tapes does indeed reveal many influences, from the obvious such as The Exorcist and The Omen to other lesser movies, such as The Last Exorcism, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and even The Exorcism of Molly Hartley. Although such movies contribute to the events and overall look and feel of the movie, they serve merely as a springboard for more unexplored ideas, which The Vatican Tapes tackles head on. The fact that the screenplay and directorial approach offer an unflinching eye—a technological eye, stretched to its logical conclusion—to tell a terrifying tale of the end of days may be lost by many, which is unfortunate. Those capable of looking past comparable movies may find that the story behind The Vatican Tapes builds upon the terror evoked by the very movies that inspired it.
One of the key concepts of this movie is that everything initiated by Satan serves as a counter to Christ and God in Christian dogma. Thus, Satan sends that anti-Christ within a very human host, contaminating her spirit with the essence of evil. Once the human “spirit” is consumed, the anti-Christ is set free upon the Earth, like Christ performing miracles to indoctrinate humanity into a false kingdom. The many metaphors presented on the screen bolster this initial concept, which serves as the building material for the terror that the movie attempts to evoke during its climax.
The Exorcist was able to evoke guttural horror and epic terror through Christian belief. The same is true for The Vatican Tapes. However, today’s secular beliefs make it much more difficult to evoke epic terror in any kind of possession film, particularly one which relies on Christian faith and values. Thus The Vatican Tapes is not as gutwrenching or disturbing for those who have no basis in a belief in God.
Those looking for special-effect-laden sequences and the typical blood and gore will not find it in this flick. Instead, the filmmakers relied on a tight and well-crafted script (the characterization is subtle but effective), a solid cast of actors, and physical effects augmented by CGI to create a movie that builds into an inevitable climax in which the guardians once again become the watchers and humanity is duped by bread and circuses. Those who have some semblance of faith should check out The Vatican Tapes. The movie will not disappoint.