Sunday, October 18, 2015

In short: The Vatican Tapes (2015)

Mild-mannered Angela (Olivia Taylor Dudles) suddenly finds herself in a world of trouble – her manners start deteriorating, a raven attacks her, and she becomes rather thirsty. Before you can say “demonic possession”, she’s in a car crash, falls into a coma, and awakes two scenes later to try and drown a baby and make a cop poke his eyes out. Time for a mental institution, and later an exorcism performed by the dubiously competent and theologically unsound Cardinal Bruun (Peter Andersson).

Oh no, don’t tell me Neveldine and Taylor broke up, because this thing is directed by Mark Neveldine alone, with no involvement by Taylor at all! It’s still very much keeping in tone with the other films the man has been involved in, so it’s loud, dumb, silly, and fast. Or to say it in other words, this is very much what you’d expect from a Neveldine exorcism movie: lots of camera shaking, no time for that pesky “introducing characters” business, priest dialogue so bad you have to admire Andersson in particular for delivering it without breaking down with the giggles, and basically no second on screen wasted on building an atmosphere, a mood of dread or anything else you’d want in a horror film. Subtlety – even the very mild kind – is not a thing Neveldine does, the tiny little fact notwithstanding that a bit of it just might be absolutely necessary to make a decent horror movie.

Instead, The Vatican Tapes is basically screeching in its audience’s ears right from the start – seriously, it doesn’t even take half an hour until the attempted baby drowning, and the film gets less subtle by the second from there on out, inventing an interpretation of Catholic theology that has little to do with Catholicism and much more with the usual fixation on the Revelations so typical of US evangelicals and – alas – the last wave of exorcism films, which is a bit of a shame given how much there would be to mine in Christian mythology if filmmakers would only care to dip into other parts than those everybody else uses. Why, as Asmodexia demonstrated, you can even use the damn Revelations and still do something interesting with them if you mix them with something else. But I digress.

On the positive side, the film’s race car speed does make it impossible for it to become as boring as most other exorcism films of the last wave have been, with hardly five minutes going by without something supposedly creepy that in Neveldine’s hands turns pretty darn hilarious happening. When Dudley doesn’t contort her face and body in various impressive ways (seriously, she’s pretty unconvincing as what she’s supposed to be, but that’s probably more the fault of script and direction than anything else, and at least she’s applying herself with great enthusiasm), the priests spout the worst dialogue ever, and if that isn’t happening, something or other is telekinetically crashing into something (or other) else.

As a horror comedy with a lot of loud, dumb stuff happening, The Vatican Tapes is actually golden; it’s just too bad it isn’t supposed to be a comedy.

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