THE VATICAN TAPES - film review
The big let-down of THE VATICAN TAPES is the screenplay. Based on a story idea by FAST & FURIOUS franchise writer Chris Morgan, Michael C. Martin and Chris Borrelli handle scripting duties. Martin has held staff writing positions on television shows, while Borelli has a couple of previous film credits, but nothing of significance. This relative inexperience is evident in the television show-style plotting the film employs and, at various points, THE VATICAN TAPES feels more like an expensive television episode than a feature film.
The story introduces viewers to Cardinal Bruun (Swedish actor Peter Andersson) and Vicar Imani (Djimon Hounsou), two men of the Roman Catholic Church whose mission is to rid the world of demons. Their interest is piqued by a video recording of a young woman the viewer comes to know as Angela (Olivia Dudley), who has been possessed by a supernatural entity. The story cuts away to Angela but before the video tape of her has been made that the Bruun and Imani watch in the opening scenes. The most confusing part of the First Act is establishing the point at which Angela becomes possessed; a matter that is never quite cleared up at any point in the film’s 86 minute running time.
Despite the story’s lack of clarity, it moves along reasonably well with Angela’s father Roger (Dougray Scott), her boyfriend Pete (John Patrick Amedori) and young priest Father Lazano (Michael Pena). Viewers hoping to see a repeat performance of Pena’s scene-stealing antics from ANT-MAN will be underwhelmed by what they get from him here, as he’s much more circumspect as a returned war veteran who has dedicated his life to God’s work. Unfortunately for THE VATICAN TAPES (and the viewer), this trio of actors are under-utilised right the way throughout the film and there is a sense that each character had more to do but their work was lost somewhere in the editing process.
As the story unfolds and Angela’s supernatural possession begins to take hold, Olivia Dudley does a nice job with a number of her scenes. Her confrontation with psychiatric therapist Dr. Richards (Kathleen Richardson) is very solid scene and the pair work well together in creating one of the film’s genuine moments of dramatic tension. Another scene where Angela incites fellow psychiatric hospital inmates to attack each other is well staged, but the scene disappoints with its lack of visceral impact, as the brutality of what the patients do to each other is suggested; not shown.
In tandem with the screenplay, the lack of visual horror is a major miscalculation on the part of the film’s producers. The film is rated PG-13 in the USA (and M in Australia) and, given its subject matter, it’s inconceivable that THE VATICAN TAPES would have been rated less than PG-13, so there’s no reason that Neveldine should have held back on elevating some of the film’s more gruesome moments to the next level in an effort to appeal to hard core horror fans. Even the final confrontation between Good and Evil (albeit in the rather constrained environment of the Holmes’ family attic) is lacking the tropes employed by supernatural tales of demonic possession.
The one big plus for THE VATICAN TAPES are some of the shots that Mark Neveldine and his Cinematographer Gerardo Mateo Madrazo capture. The film employs a lot of video surveillance footage (because it is after all THE VATICAN TAPES) and the Editor Eric Potter does a good job of stitching these sequences together with the more stylish live-action shots to deliver some above-average visuals. (Angela’s admission to hospital and a subsequent psychiatric facility provides the film’s best sustained action.) This, however, is not enough to deliver a nerve-wracking, spine-tingling, fear-inducing feature film whose main subject matter is demonic possession. For that, you will need a different old priest-young priest combo!