Rated PG-13 | Time: 1:31
The Antichrist is a woman. This may sound like a belief held by misogynist men’s rights activists, but it’s also the thesis of the religious horror flick “The Vatican Tapes,” and a rather clumsily, haphazardly executed one at that.
An entry into the demonic possession horror sub-genre, “The Exorcist” this is not — it’s the shoddy, worn-down VHS replica.
The possessed in question is the lovely blond Angela (Olivia Dudley). In our introduction to her, she’s seen on videotape taken from a psych hospital, scrutinized by Cardinal Bruun (Peter Anderson) and Vicar Imani (Djimon Hounsou), men of the cloth — and possibly of a secretive Vatican order, Warriors of God, the guardians of an archive of exorcism materials. Angela, before she was committed to the psych ward, was celebrating her birthday with boyfriend Pete (John Patrick Amedori) and a surprise visit from her military colonel dad, Roger (Dougray Scott).
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Her possession comes on after a bloody cake cutting accident at the party. It’s never really quite clear where the possession comes from (there’s no Captain Howdy to blame). The hospital? Perhaps a raven attack on the bus? She becomes surly and lascivious, bedeviled by thirst and increasingly, randomly violent. Whether she’s doing the deed herself or causing others to inflict violence, she leaves a wake of bodies through the hospital. Soon, hospital chaplain Father Lozano (Michael Pena) is abandoning psychiatric treatment (Kathleen Robertson plays her useless therapist) and phoning the Warriors of God.
“The Vatican Tapes” uses found footage as an aesthetic motif, borrowing from cellphones, security cameras and archival footage to build both its style and storytelling technique. Directed by Mark Neveldine, formerly of rollerblading directing duo Neveldine and Taylor (the “Crank” auteurs), the film is a desaturated, dark and dingy affair. It’s rife with low Dutch angles and skittering pixels; rapid handheld camera work mimics the speed of an otherworldly being in hot pursuit.
Because the film borrows structure, character types and themes from “The Exorcist” and “The Omen,” it begs the unkind comparison to these classics. But there’s none of the creeping dread of these films, the parental desperation, the true sense of last resort that leads to the exorcism. Distressingly, it’s not even the littlest bit scary. Angela does some creepy things, but every act of violence is telegraphed from miles away, and there’s no suspense or tension hanging in the air.
While “The Exorcist” exploited collective subconscious anxieties about the female body in pubescent transition, and the violation of innocence, that subtext is lost with a grown woman. It’s translated into something far more sinister and disturbing, as some older men seek to drive the devil from her body by any means necessary. One has to wonder why demons are so interested in defiling nubile female bodies. In actuality, it’s the filmmakers who cling to this construct without attempting to innovate or insert anything new into the conversation.
(At Barrywoods and Merriam.)
| By Katie Walsh
Tribune News Service