Yes, we know. When it comes to some of the sub-genres of horror movies — the slashers, the paranormal/supernatural, vampires, science gone awry — the stories are basically the same. The elements needed to make each film distinctive include motivations, characterizations, locales and any other plot twist that needs to be plausible.
The demonic possession / exorcism movie is at a disadvantage because it is weighted down by a simple structure. Some poor soul is invaded by a satanic force — and the motivation for this is obvious and not complex — and it needs to be purged.
Another problem is that 41 years ago, “The Exorcist” covered this with such brilliance and terror nothing that followed could even remotely approach this film’s standing as one of the scariest horror pictures of all time.
Filmmakers continue to delve into this subject, however.
Mark Neveldine, who directed the two Jason Statham “Crank” movies under the name Neveldine, has helmed “The Vatican Tapes,” a film whose title seems to imply this is the ultimate demonic possession exploration.
Co-written by Chris Morgan and Christopher Borrelli, based on a story by Borrelli and Michael C. Martin, “The Vatican Tapes” is another pale “Exorcist” wannabe with some of “The Omen” mixed in.
Somewhere it must be written that in all demonic possession films, the victim must be a young girl or woman — this perhaps motivated by a notion that an innocent looking person can really be terrifying when under the influence of a malevolent entity.
In “The Vatican Tapes,” the target of the soul-consumption project is a woman named Angela Holmes (Olivia Taylor Dudley from “Chernobyl Diaries”). She is a patient at a Catholic mental hospital in the United States, and a video of one of her therapy sessions gains the concerned attention of Vicar Imani (Djimon Hounsou) in Vatican City. He shows the video to Cardinal Bruun (Peter Andersson), specifically focusing on one point on the stream in which there is the usual visual static and distortion that when freeze-framed shows some scary shadow image that looks pretty intimidating.
The movie flashes back five months to when Angela was a happy young woman, living with her boyfriend Pete (John Patrick Amedori) and dealing with her military father, Col. Roger Holmes (Dougray Scott, the villain Sean Ambrose in “Mission Impossible II), who naturally thinks Pete is not good enough for his daughter.
Angela’s 24th birthday party is marred when she badly slices her finger while cutting the cake. She reluctantly goes to a nearby Catholic hospital with Pete and her father, where they have a brief encounter with the hospital chaplain, Father Lozano (Michael Peña). The wound is tended to and Angela is given some medication to take upon being sent home.
But she soon is drinking a lot of water, claiming a dry throat, and one day has a frightening encounter with a raven that bites her. Soon her behavior becomes erratic and leads to an accident that puts her into a coma. After several weeks in which Angela shows no brain activity, Roger agrees to take her off life support. She goes into full arrest but a moment later comes back to life.
However, now Angela is even more unpredictable, which leads to her being admitted to the mental hospital. By now Father Lozano has taken an interest in her case and begins to witness incidents that cannot be attributed to any mental disorder.
This brings us back where the movie opened, with Cardinal Bruun, sharing Vicar Imani’s concerns, deciding to go to the United States to perform the exorcism. By that time, Angela has caused so much commotion at the mental hospital that she is being released to the care of her father.
The effectiveness of “The Exorcist” was largely attributed to the young innocence of Regan, played by Linda Blair, and as she became horribly disfigured and growled and played mind games and spewed vile words and green vomit, it was horrifying to witness such a ghastly transition.
Weighing down “The Vatican Tapes” is the bland characterization of Angela. Little time is devoted to fleshing out Angela pre-possession, and as close as she is supposed to be to her father (she never knew her mother), that relationship is never believably realized.
Dudley as Angela does execute some creepy scenes well, using an ominous and menacing expression, and her whispered recitations, delivered in some unknown language that have a chaotic effect on others, do induce chills.
The exorcism scenes are superbly staged, with Cardinal Bruun’s confidence diminishing by the minute and Father Lozano realizing they are seriously outmatched.
“The Vatican Tapes” tries to be an overpowering possession movie, but there are no distinguishing moments. It all has been put on film before, with much more chilling punch.
The downfall of “Creep” is that it reveals too much
Recently added to the Netflix lineup, “Creep” is a two-man project, a small film that has dark humor along with cringe-inducing and unnerving moments.
Written by Mark Duplass (most recently seen in “The Lazarus Effect”) and Patrick Brice and directed by Brice, “Creep” also stars just these two men under a point-of-view format.
Brice plays Aaron, a videographer who answers an online ad for a one-day job at a cabin in Crestline, a mountain town northeast of Los Angeles.
Upon arriving, it seems like nobody is in the cabin, but then Josef (Duplass) suddenly appears. Once inside, Josef tells Aaron what his job will be. Josef says that he is married and his wife is expecting a baby boy in a few months. However, Josef says he has an inoperable and terminal brain tumor and likely will die either before or shortly after his son is born. So he wants Aaron to videotape him all day in an effort to present a record Josef can leave to his son to let the boy know who his father was.
It seems a simple enough, if sad, assignment, although Aaron stupidly expresses no curiosity as to why Josef’s wife is not around.
Soon things start to get a little uncomfortable. Immediately, Josef wants Aaron to videotape him while he takes a bath with an imaginary baby, playing a “rub-a-dub” game that Josef says his father did with him when he was young.
It gets worse. Josef is fond of disappearing and then leaping out to scare Aaron. Josef also has a wolf mask he has named Peach Fuzz. Josef’s behavior swings from being bizarre to genuinely reflective and sad. As the day progresses, Aaron becomes more leery of Josef, suspecting other motives — possibly even intimate overtones — that has the videographer eager to leave later in the evening. But his car keys have disappeared.
Some cat-and-mouse games ensue between the two men and eventually Aaron manages to get away. But soon he realizes that Josef is nowhere near being done with him.
A problem with “Creep” is that Aaron ends up being the typical easy prey, lacking any common sense, making him a ripe target for Josef’s manipulations.
On the plus side, Duplass is captivating as Josef, in a creepy way. His actions are unpredictable yet at times seem to be brilliantly calculated.
Unfortunately, “Creep” unravels in the final moments as it reveals too much. The Brice/Duplass team had a small gem here in keeping things murky. Had they followed that plan and maintained some element of mystery, “Creep” would have had a lasting effect of a psychological thriller wherein the lack of resolution leaves a residue of uneasiness.