The Vatican Tapes (2015)
★ / ★★★★
Modern exorcism movies are a dime a dozen and the bar is low. Yet still “The Vatican Tapes” fails to separate itself from the pack. This is because the screenplay by Christopher Borrelli and Michael C. Martin lacks imagination. It appears to be content in borrowing ideas from other supernatural movies, putting them in a blender, and then presenting them to us in the most ludicrous fashion possible. By the end of the picture, we are taken to the Vatican secret archives—polished, high-tech, bringing to mind posh offices in spy movies. It feels like a completely different film.
There is no scares to be had here, just a laborious descent to the inevitable confrontation between a man of the cloth and the person believed to be possessed by evil. Olivia Taylor Dudley plays Angela, an ordinary girl who begins to experience strange phenomenon—like losing control of her body—right on her twenty-fifth birthday. Soon ravens attack the bus she’s on. Her throat gets so dry at times, drinking a ton of water does not appear to help. At one point, her boyfriend, Pete (John Patrick Amedori), and father, Roger (Dougray Scott), are unable to wake her up from a deep sleep. There is something really wrong—not just with the woman but also the movie because all these strange happenings fail to generate suspense or tension.
“What makes a possessed person scary?,” I asked myself in the middle of boredom. It is not because of all special and visual effects involving cosmetics, like how the dark circles around Angela’s eyes would ebb and flow. It is not because of her video recordings undergoing “glitches” and when paused at the right time a demonic figure can be seen. Still, it is also not because of other people getting near Angela and suddenly they’re attempting to kill themselves. No. What makes a possessed person scary is rooted in something more realistic: That possibility the person we come to know and love is no longer there. The idea that a friend or a loved one’s physical body is still walking and talking but we can no longer relate with them, for whatever reason, is a universal fear. In other words, paranormal activity is merely a tool that can be used to amplify common fears. The writers do not have an understanding of this.
And so we go through the motions of following Angela’s ordinary journey from her apartment, to the hospital, to the psychiatric facility, and back home again. In between these change in locations, Father Lozano (Michael Peña) gives Pete and Roger assuring words and looks. Clearly, Angela’s condition is getting worse yet no one is angry at the incompetence of the would-be professionals involved. But I guess so long as the priest says everything will turn out all right, it must be so. When one looks at the big picture, it is amusing that a solid case can be made that it may be unwise to trust men of the cloth because they don’t know what’s happening either. It bothered me that not one of the doctors suggested that Angela, given her current condition and a big piece of her genetic history is unknown, may have some sort of mental illness like schizophrenia.
Aside from imagination and creativity, there is also a lack of energy in “The Vatican Tapes.” The dialogue is so flat, for instance, it borders on soporific. When objects move on their own or when animals act in a bizarre way, the camera just sits there. No passion can be felt from this project. I felt like the filmmakers decided to make a movie just because they could. Or for the money. Because if they really wished to entertain, they should have been the first ones to notice that what they have is dead on the water even before the first image is captured. It is without question the work requires major screenplay revisions. Or simply dump it in the trash.