VATICAN CITY — The Jesuit priest who helped produce “The Pope’s Exorcist” said horror movie fans will be in for “a fun ride” with the new film that stars Russell Crowe.
Jesuit Father Edward J. Siebert, founder and president of Loyola Productions, told Catholic News Service that the film “relies upon familiar biblical, literary and cinematic images to personify the lure of evil against the power of good.”
“Any story that ends with the enemy’s defeat is ultimately a story of hope. And if you are a fan of horror films, this is a fun ride,” he said in an email response to questions April 13.
Father Siebert, who is also rector of the Jesuit community at Loyola Marymount University and teaches at its School of Film and Television in Los Angeles, served as an executive producer for the film, released in theaters across the United States April 14.
The movie, billed as a “supernatural horror thriller,” was inspired by the life and ministry of the late Pauline Father Gabriele Amorth, a longtime and well-known exorcist for the Diocese of Rome who performed tens of thousands of exorcisms until his death in 2016 at the age of 91.
Father Siebert said Loyola Productions acquired both the book and life rights to Father Amorth’s story. “I was drawn to the story of Father Amorth because it is primarily a story of good and evil.”
Serving as the executive producer for the film, the Jesuit said he helped “to shape the project along the way.”
While “the film is written and directed in the style of historical fiction,” he said, it is based on the Italian priest’s two memoirs “An Exorcist Tells His Story” and “An Exorcist: More Stories.”
“The writers and director took creative liberty to visualize internal struggles as external events,” he told CNS. “None of the supporting characters, especially church officials, represent actual historic figures. They illustrate the ecclesial structure and system in which an exorcist would work.”
Before the film’s release, the International Association of Exorcists, headquartered in Rome and co-founded by Father Amorth, released a statement after viewing the film’s trailer lamenting what it believed was going to be a “splatter film,” heavy on “exaggeration” and “unreliability on such a sensitive and relevant subject.”
Any overly sensationalized depiction of the ministry of exorcism “distorts and falsifies what is really lived and experienced” by Catholic exorcists and “is insulting in regard to the state of suffering experienced by those who are victims of extraordinary action by the devil,” it said in its March 7 statement.
CNS asked Father Siebert about how the horror genre would be helpful in illustrating the ministry of an exorcist and how Catholics and the public should approach the film and discern what is pure entertainment and what is more instructive or accurate.
“Today’s audiences are savvy enough to glean the wheat from the chaff, if you will, in mainstream entertainment,” he said in the email reply.
“Anyone watching ‘The Pope’s Exorcist’ will see that this is a work of historical fiction in the horror/thriller genre, which is not your typical faith-based film,” he wrote.
“What is more accurate and instructive for viewers is that the film reflects on some of the most challenging aspects of faith,” he wrote. “When we shed light on sin and evil, it reflects back the pain of our past and present.”
“While the demons in the film may seem extreme and exaggerated, the movements of disturbance and evil inside of us have the power to overtake us,” he wrote. “I have always believed that the power of prayer, the naming of demons, the forgiveness of sins and the conquering of evil are central to faith.”