The opening scenes of The Vatican Tapes are pretty promising. A montage of apparently genuine footage lifted from the titular recordings are generic in their depiction of demonic possession, but are interesting enough. These black and white fast edits serve well to set the film up as an exposé into the secret archives hidden beneath St. Peter’s Basilica. Around 20 minutes later all that initial interest has subsided and what’s left is a film desperate to be different with no clear idea how, and one that ends up being dull, disappointing and in the final few minutes, downright ridiculous.
Angela (Olivia Taylor Dudley) is a seemingly normal young woman with a needy boyfriend (John Patrick Amedori) and an overbearing father (Dougray Scott). Suddenly she begins to suffer unpredictable mood swings, psychotic episodes and slips into a coma following a self-created car accident. When she inexplicably recovers conciousness, her behaviour becomes so extreme that the local mental asylum won’t take her and it falls upon the church to battle what they believe to be an ancient evil. It’s time for an exorcism.
Hmmm… where to begin? Firstly, there is very likely to be a much longer version of this film somewhere that either makes more sense or was so intolerably dull that it had to be cut in order to prevent any audience unlucky enough to watch from slipping into their own coma. More than 30 minutes in and it feels like we’re still being presented with more and more background to create “character depth”. Another 15 minutes through and we’re finally getting an indication that something evil and satanic might be happening, which may seem fine, but for a film that only clocks in at around 70 minutes in total that’s a lot of exposition before any exorcising. The time that’s left then becomes an unsatisfactory blend of random moments you’ve seen so many times previously, before descending into what can only be described as complete nonsense. The film finally ends so abruptly you find yourself expecting some kind of extended epilogue that never comes.
Secondly, the entire cast appears uncomfortable with their characters, as if this wasn’t the film they signed up for - with the exception of Dudley who is giving her all in the lead role. Scott looks as confused as his character ends up being (something the audience will empathise with at least) and Michael Peña appears surprised by what he is actually witnessing. Alison Lohman and Djimon Hounsou are limited to roles so small as to barely justify a credit; which again nods to there being a much longer film.
There are too many issues to list in full but one does requires a mention. Apart from that opening montage there are no Vatican Tapes in the film titled The Vatican Tapes. Once again this a desperate attempt to create interest around a supernatural film from a public weary of being fed the same old thing through cynical marketing.
1999’s Stigmata is by no means a perfect film, but through clever direction that slowly builds the supernatural presence, from engaging acting that puts the audience on the side of the protagonists and from some genuinely creepy moments it manages to do everything The Vatican Tapes doesn’t. This is a disappointing and lazy production that never seems to know what it wants to show its audience, or how to do it. Perhaps worth a late night, one-off viewing for the bizarre ending but that aside this is one to avoid.
THE VATICAN TAPES / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: MARK NEVELDINE / SCREENPLAY: CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI, MICHAEL C. MARTIN / STARRING: OLIVIA TAYLOR DUDLEY, DOUGRAY SCOTT, MICHAEL PENA, DJIMON HOUNSOU, JOHN PATRICK AMEDORI / RELEASE TAPES: OCTOBER 30TH
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10