The Vatican Tapes director Mark Neveldine cut his teeth on gonzo action films where adrenaline junkies extend Mountain Dew commercials to feature film length with extremes acts like kickstarting their heart with jumper cables (Crank). With that background it comes as a surprise that Neveldine’s deep dive into the horror genre takes a more restrained approach. The Vatican Tapes offers up a fascinating character study of its central figure while also speculating on the true nature of the Anti-Christ.
Angelina (Olivia Taylor Dudley) has a pretty decent grip on her life. She shares a happy home with her boyfriend, has a strong relationship with her father and enjoys a wide ranging social circle. That life comes crashing down when she suffers a serious gash on her hand while cutting her birthday cake. While the wound gets stitched up, Angelina begins to exhibit bizarre behavior. She experiences unquenchable thirst and begins lashing out at her loved ones. When her boyfriend walks in her lying comatose, she winds up in a hospital. From there her behavior shifts from concerning to criminally insane; escalating to the point where the police become involved and Angelina winds up is a psychiatric hospital in an attempt to discover the root of what ails her.
While Angelina undergoes her metamorphosis, she catches the attention of a young priest (Michael Pena), who attempts to console Angelina’s father, but also reports the events to a special Vatican tasked force charged with determining if an exorcism is called for. When it’s determined that Angelina’s problem lies in the spiritual realm, Cardinal Bruun (Peter Anderson) departs for the states in order to cast the demon back to hell. A longtime veteran of performing exorcisms, the Cardinal nonetheless finds himself facing an evil more powerful than anything he’s ever encountered before.
The strengths of the film rests on the performance of Dudley as the possessed woman. Neveldine allows enough room for the film to breathe so that audiences get a good look at her character and develop a great deal of sympathy for her plight. Angelina comes off as both sad and terrifying, especially during the scenes in the psych ward. As the demon takes root it allows her unspoken influence over the persons around her. As her condition worsens, anyone in her vicinity wind up doing themselves serious bodily injury. The film also explores the potential nature of the Anti-Christ without speculating on its actual mission. It’s a fascinating, if albeit brief, examination regarding how Christlike miracle worker would be received in our modern age of skepticism and a 24 hour, all encompassing news and talking heads cycle.
Overall The Vatican Tapes offers something a bit slower and a bit more heady than the standard exorcism film. While the finale comes off as a bit anticlimactic, overall Neveldine offers a much stronger, more thoughtful look at the nature of evil and the dichotomy of science and faith than we’ve seen in a while.