The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist…or so says The Usual Suspects. Making surveillance videos staticky for jump scares, on the other hand, is a bottom-of-the-barrel technique that ran out of juice long ago: In The Vatican Tapes, the devil can possess souls, crumble masonry, and inspire madhouse riots, but what really stokes his coals is fucking with minicams.
At least that gives the Vatican’s A/V team something to do. In a framing sequence, we see Djimon Hounsou (yes, two-time Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou) scanning psychiatric interview footage in super slo-mo like Chloe in 24, to find a demon’s superimposed face. (He also gets to intone lines like “A raven…the devil’s messenger.”)
As for the actual plot, a young woman (Olivia Taylor Dudley) gets possessed; she gets committed; she causes bad things to happen. Eventually there’s an exorcism (with local priest Michael Peña assisting Peter Andersson — a specialist from the Vatican, natch), which does not go well (in ways almost entirely cribbed from William Friedkin).
At no point does this film strive to be more than a second-rate version of what it is: a halfhearted attempt to make some scratch while pretending the devil exists. Some trick.
The Vatican Tapes
Written and directed by Mark Neveldine
Opens July 24
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 24, 2015