Russell Crowe Is Too Good For This Misguided Horror Story That Falls Apart


  • Russell Crowe’s performance in The Exorcism is the standout element, giving depth to his character and making viewers empathize with his struggles.
  • The effective score adds a chilling atmosphere to the film, but unfortunately, the final exorcism undoes the compelling character development from the first half.
  • While the first half of The Exorcism focuses on character exploration and engaging storytelling, the shift to typical horror elements in the final act feels like a missed opportunity.

There has been some confusion surrounding The Exorcism, the new supernatural horror film starring Russell Crowe. I’ll start by saying the film isn’t a sequel to The Pope’s Exorcist, nor is it directly connected to The Exorcist, though The Exorcism director Joshua John Miller’s father, Jason Miller, starred in the allegedly cursed 1973 horror movie. All that aside, The Exorcism isn’t wholly dissimilar, if only because it explores production troubles due to something sinister, in the vein of The Exorcist allegedly being cursed.

Russell Crowe’s Performance Keeps The Exorcism Afloat

His character’s story is compelling

Crowe puts in a solid turn as Tony Miller, a former alcoholic and disgraced actor who’s trying to make ends meet while reconnecting with his daughter, Lee (Ryan Simpkins). When he takes a job playing Father Arlington in the fictional horror film The Georgetown Project (formerly the film’s title), working with the volatile director played by Adam Goldberg, Tony is triggered by his past trauma — his abuse as an altar boy, alcoholism and guilt connected to the illness and death of his wife. The Exorcism is primarily about redemption, but its final act unravels what was, at one point, an unsettling horror movie.

M.A. Fortin and Miller’s script lays the foundation for the story early on. It’s rare that a film takes its time setting up its main characters before getting into the chills and thrills that will affect them. And while The Exorcism starts with an actor dying on the set of the film Tony will eventually star in, the first 45 minutes or so are spent on character development. And if I’m only judging the horror based on that alone, I’d say it does a good job of making us care about Tony and his relationship with Lee, which is strained.

Crowe does a stellar job imbuing Tony with a deep sense of guilt. He can’t shake it, and wonders aloud in confession if his commitment to doing better can ever overshadow the pain he caused in the past. Though Tony is eventually possessed by the very demon in The Georgetown Project, The Exorcism makes clear that he is haunted by his past at every turn; his role as Father Arlington brings him ever closer to it, making him vulnerable to possession, though that’s less scary than the very human mistakes and emotions he feels.

These elements are the most compelling of the film. As we’re asked to empathize with a man who feels the utmost remorse for the harm he caused, Crowe delivers a performance that keeps The Exorcism engaging, even when its premise starts to run out of steam, and a very gimmicky finale nearly throws all the character work out the window. Crowe is the only one in the whole film, besides an antagonistic Goldberg, to make me feel anything or care about what’s happening. Even as the horror aspects picked up, they were more like afterthoughts.

The Exorcism’s Horror Can Be Chilling Thanks To An Effective Score

The scares themselves, however, are anything but

When The Exorcism is caught in the throes of redemption, it’s thought-provoking and moving. But it practically drops everything in its final third to become a full-fledged horror, undermining all that came before. I couldn’t take the exorcism seriously, despite the fact that the cast — including Chloe Bailey’s Blake, who’s underdeveloped and underutilized — put their entire energy into making it believable. When the story turns to the supernatural elements of its horror, it’s less intriguing and compelling. It does a disservice to all that came before, eschewing a deeper character study for basic demonic thrills.

The finale wants to be chilling, but I walked away from it feeling empty rather than unsettled. Had the film remained an engaging character exploration, it might have been worth recommending.

Under the surface of the supernatural lies something truly sinister, and it’s very human. While other horror films have been able to marry trauma and human evil together with the supernatural, The Exorcism struggles to do that properly. When I realized the film was no longer going to explore Tony’s past and the work he’s doing to combat it, I was disappointed. Choosing to go the route of a typical horror exorcism felt absurd in a film that had a lot going for it in the first half.

The score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans is effective, turning moments into eerie ones. But it’s also doing much of the heavy lifting in terms of startling us. The scares themselves barely register. The Exorcism wants us to ponder whether Tony is relapsing or if he’s possessed, but it answers that question too literally, opting for a full-blown exorcism the horror film could have done entirely without. It also puts a complete stop to Tony’s growth and backsliding. What good is character building when the script offers an easy way out?

Crowe’s performance is The Exorcism’s saving grace. His dedication to crafting a character whose struggles he wears on his sleeve elevates the lackluster horror elements that are consistently on display, but that don’t do much for the overall story. The finale wants to be chilling, but I walked away from it feeling empty rather than unsettled. Had the film remained an engaging character exploration, it might have been worth recommending.

The Exorcism is in theaters Friday, June 21. The film is rated R for language, some violent content, sexual references and brief drug use.

The Exorcism 2024 Film Poster

Anthony Miller, a troubled actor, begins to unravel while shooting a supernatural horror film. His estranged daughter, Lee, wonders if he’s slipping back into his past addictions or if there’s something more sinister at play.


  • Russell Crowe gives Tony a lot of depth and makes us root for him
  • The score can be chilling and the first half of the film is solid

  • The final exorcism undoes the character building from the first half
  • The typical horror elements undermine a deeper story

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