‘The Exorcism’ review: a devilishly hokey tribute to ‘The Exorcist’

Russell Crowe stars in an emotive meta-movie with a truly diabolical third act

“I believe in cinema,” Joshua John Miller told the Au Review earlier this month. “I don’t believe in Hollywood.”

These are reassuring words from an ambitious co-writer and first-time director whose pedigree seems pretty ideal when it comes to freaky films. His father, Jason Miller, was Oscar-nominated for his role as Father Damien Karras in William Friedkin’s unimpeachable The Exorcist, a movie for which “classic” is far too weak a word.

The Exorcism, then, is a kind of tribute to that film, which Miller – like many of us – saw at a troublingly young age. In his second exorcism-themed flick in a year (after the similarly hokey The Pope’s Exorcist, which has a confirmed sequel on the way), Russell Crowe plays Anthony, a famous actor whose drink and drug problems have been as well publicised as his abandonment of his terminally ill wife. Seeking atonement, along with the forgiveness of his teenage daughter Lee (Ryan Simpkins), he takes the lead in The Georgetown Project, a movie that looks suspiciously like a remake of The Exorcist, though is never explicitly named as such.

With references galore, there’s plenty of fun here for horror buffs, given that Anthony’s apartment block resembles the one from Rosemary’s Baby and, as eagle-eyed readers will have clocked, the movie he’s making is named after the Washington suburb in which The Exorcist is set. The rubbery performances (not least from Frasier’s David Hyde Pierce as the unflappable Father Conor) are well-suited to occult horror and, for a good hour, The Exorcism is absorbing, smart and packed with ruthlessly effective jump-scares.


Things look bad when “SHOOT DAY ONE” flashes up on the screen in blood-red capitals as production begins (in The Shining, it’s days of the week) and worse still when Anthony finds a pentagram scrawled on a script. As the director’s uncompromising methods (which may be an allusion to Friedkin’s) tip into outright bullying, Anthony’s behaviour becomes weird even by A-list standards. Could he be slipping back into his old ways – or is it something to do with Molech, the Biblical demon he’s been mumbling about?

Either way, after things go really bananas come “SHOOT DAY ELEVEN”, you suspect the cast of The Georgetown Project won’t be gurning through press junkets about what a happy family they were on set. Alas, what begins as an emotive meta-movie about shame, forgiveness and redemption soon devolves into the worst kind of chaos. It’s not so much that the film falls apart in its final act, as happens so often in horror. Instead, it’s almost as if an entirely new film starts up at the 60-minute point. And this one doesn’t appear to make a lick of sense.


Like an inversion of the film’s plot, however, the sins of the final act can’t quite wash away the virtues of the first two. And let’s follow the light to look on the bright side. Along with a seemingly never-ending projectile stream of diabolical Exorcist sequels and knock-offs, it’s an inadvertently fitting tribute to the genius of William Friedkin’s masterpiece, which clearly can’t be replicated.


  • Director: Joshua John Miller
  • Starring: Russell Crowe, Ryan Simpkins, David Hyde Pierce
  • Release date: June 21 (in cinemas)

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