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Vatican Tapes, The

D: Mark Neveldine / 91m

Olivia Taylor Dudley, Michael Peña, Dougray Scott, Peter Andersson, John Patrick Amedori, Kathleen Robinson, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Paré, Cas Anvar, Alex Sparrow

Watching contemporary horror movies is a pastime perfectly suited for the unabashed masochist, someone who will continuously, regularly put themselves through all kinds of cinematic detritus in the hope of finding that rare beast: the above average horror movie. It’s a calling, a passion if you like, and there are plenty of people who will settle down to watch ultra-low budget efforts such as Silverhide (2015) or franchise dregs like Hellraiser: Revelations (2011) in the certain knowledge that they’ll be wasting their time and afterwards, will be wondering why on earth they watched said travesty in the first place – what was I thinking?

While such perseverance might be commended (or just marvelled at), the fact is that ultra-low budget horror movies are generally rubbish, and franchise entries are a dreadful infringement on our time and patience. But there’s a third kind of horror movie that endures today despite its commitment to shocking dialogue and nonsensical plotting, to vague characterisations and unconvincing acting. It’s the kind of horror movie that paints itself in respectability by having well-known actors in key roles, and by splashing a little more cash than usual. These movies also manage to find their way to our cinema screens – they actually open – and they work as stand alone movies that may or may not develop into franchises. But – and this is the most important point to be made about these movies – they’re still rubbish, they’re just made by people who really should know better.

And after that cycnical preamble, we come to The Vatican Tapes, a movie so blind to its many irritating, mind-bending faults that it becomes a struggle to get through after the first few minutes, and where any efforts to improve on its tortured storyline and disastrous plotting have apparently been strangled at the preconception stage. It’s a movie that can’t decide whether it’s an exorcism tale, all about the rise of the Antichrist, or religious paranoia (though it tries to be all three at once). It’s the kind of movie experience that makes you want to do what one character does, and drive broken lightbulbs into your eyes so that you don’t have to watch any more.

Vatican Tapes, The - scene1

Going into a movie like this, there’s often the idea that because of the cast (who must know a good project when they see one, they’re all experienced actors, after all), the finished product will have an edge over the more bog-standard, predictable horror movies out there. And surely the producers wouldn’t have been able to attract such a cast with a dodgy script and a director with no clear idea of what he’s doing? Surely they wouldn’t have been able to do that, right? Wrong! Most actors go where the money or the work is, and sometimes all they can do is take the money, make the movie, and then pray that no one ever sees it.

Here we have Messrs Peña, Scott, Andersson and Hounsou all looking uncomfortable, embarrassed, and itching to get through their scenes as quickly as possible. Not one of them manages to attain any degree of credibility in their roles, and not one of them feels like they were cast in the right role. Of the four, Peña looks the most awkward, playing a priest, Father Lozano, who’s always in the wrong place at the right time, and who is the first to suspect that normally sweet-natured Angela (Dudley) is possessed by a demon. As the tortuous story continues, Peña hovers at the edge of group scenes with the air of a man hoping he could just take one more step to the left or right and then he’d be out of shot altogether. And Scott’s performance as a hard-nosed Army veteran and father of the possessed is staggeringly bad, with the scene where he describes his relationship with Angela’s mother rendered laughable thanks to the absurdity of the dialogue created by Michael C. Martin and Christopher Borelli, and Scott’s hamfisted attempt at sincerity.

The story itself doesn’t make any sense, and varies in intention from scene to scene. Angela becomes possessed but is it through cutting her finger, or the subsequent attack by a crow on a bus, or while she stays in a coma for forty days (one of the more spurious connections with Jesus the movie makes on Angela’s behalf)? Ultimately it doesn’t matter because once the exorcism – conducted by Vatican honcho Cardinal Bruun (Andersson) and abetted by Lozano – gets under way, the focus switches from casting out a pesky demon to battling for Angela’s soul against an incarnation of the Antichrist who just so happens to have possessed Bruun when he was twelve.

Vatican Tapes, The - scene2

By now, the absurdity of the story will have become so apparent, all the hapless viewer can do is continue watching just to see if the movie can become even more absurd – which it manages with ease (the Antichrist as media darling, anyone?). It doesn’t help that the movie’s director, Mark Neveldine, has less than a firm grasp on the “dramatics” of the story, and instead concentrates on the visuals. However he doesn’t bring anything new to proceedings, leaving the movie looking like an homage to all the other recent horror movies that have traded on bleached out vistas and a jagged editing style overlaid with an effects heavy soundtrack that deadens the atmosphere and soon becomes annoying. And it remains resolutely scare-free.

In a less conservative era, comedians would tell jokes that began “My wife’s so fat…” A modern day equivalent in this instance might begin with “This movie’s so bad…” and end with “it makes Nicolas Cage’s recent career choices look like worthy Oscar winners.” Or, “this movie’s so bad… it’s the only thing that can take my mind off of how fat my wife is.” It’s simply a terrible movie and unless you’re one of those unabashed masochists mentioned at the top of the review, should be avoided at all costs.

Rating: 2/10 – dire doesn’t even begin to describe just how ridiculously awful The Vatican Tapes is; it’s yet another horror movie made by people who have no clue what they’re doing and who just don’t seem to care if the audience likes it or not.

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