If you’re looking for a good horror movie this Halloween weekend, keep looking. The demonic-possession subgenre isn’t exactly one crammed with quality cinematic experiences, but with The Vatican Tapes, it hits a dull, unscary new low.
This is a movie so inept that it doesn’t even have a protagonist, so there is no focus for what little story there is. Is this the tale of Angela (Olivia Dudley [Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, Transcendence], who looks so much like Patricia Arquette here that I thought she must be a daughter or a cousin or something, but apparently not), who on her 25th birthday is suddenly taken over by Satan? Is this the tale of her soldier father, Roger (Dougray Scott: Taken 3, Doctor Who), who is trying to help her? Is this the tale of the priest, Father Lozano (Michael Peña: The Martian, Vacation), whom Dad enlists to help? Is it the tale of another priest, Cardinal Bruun (Peter Andersson: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest), who is sent from the Vatican to help some more? They are all mere pawns, not people, coat hangers on which to drape risible ideas about the “causes” of demonic possession: one seems to suggest that strong antibiotics are to blame; another involves the unsavory circumstances of Angela’s birth (her mother was a call girl, the slut). And Old Scratch remains the worse supervillain ever, always giving away his presence by having his servants try to kill babies and wilt flowers and scream when holy water gets splashed on them. Maybe go lower profile, dude?
Much of the tedious same-old devilry is seen here through lifeless hospital CCTV of Angela being treated for what ails her, which is perhaps intended to add a level of authenticity, but it’s nothing but banal. There’s supposed to be something ominous, I suspect, in the idea that the Vatican has been collecting film and video of possessed people since the technology became available, but all this little sidetrack achieves is the utter wasting of Djimon Hounsou (Furious 7, Seventh Son) as the Vatican official who explains this for our benefit.
Director Mark Neveldine seems to get further and further away from the outrageous originality of his first films, Crank and Crank: High Voltage (his most recent film before this one? the absolutely terrible Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance), and the desperation here is sadly palpable even as one solution to its total familiarity is weirdly ignored: the movie ends where it should have begun, if it wanted to tell a new story. But perhaps that’s too big an If: what is here is so empty that even the ridiculously dragged-out end credits (which run for nine long minutes) cannot pad the movie out to 90 minutes. Ultimately, however, that’s a blessing in disguise.