VOD film review: The Vatican Tapes
Ivan Radford | On 30, Oct 2015
Director: Mark Neveldine
Cast: Dougray Scott, Michael Peña, Djimon Hounsou, Olivia Taylor Dudley
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Mark Neveldine, of Neveldine & Taylor fame, is a man whose CV includes the films Crank and Crank 2: High Voltage. He’s the kind of director who understands the value of sheer ridiculousness – and isn’t afraid to throw the camera off a building (or inside Jason Statham) to get it. The prospect of a horror film helmed by him, then, is a promising one indeed.
The Vatican Tapes, though, is determined to make this master of madcap produce something as conventional as possible. The plot is immediately familiar, as we meet Angela (Dudley), who appears to be possessed. We can tell because birds fly through bus windows while she’s on them and she does creepy things with babies while kept overnight in hospital for observation.
The film is perhaps at its best when allowing us to do just that: observe her, as she sits stationary in front of the camera. Olivia Taylor Dudley has a wonderful line in strange stares, a hint of a smile threatening to spread across her features. But this is a possession movie and tradition dictates that Angela thrashes about as much possible, and so we’re treated to a string of familiar set pieces and stunts, from bloody encounters with glass bottles to found footage from the titular Vatican archives.
Fortunately, in a world where less isn’t more, the man behind the camera is a guy who specialises in excess. If the odd use of CCTV and Dougray Scott’s overbearing, dubious dad dampen the excitement with cliches, Neveldine does his best to direct the hell out it. Scenes where priests are followed (or not?) through corridors see the camera track both ways at once, while one riot sequence (in which Angela’s not even present) is effectively staged. That dynamic camerawork, combined with the likeable presence of Michael Peña as a young priest, gives The Vatican Tapes an edge, despite the best attempts of the cheesy script to blunt them with a grizzled veteran of the cloth with his own demons to exorcise.
The film’s biggest strength, though, is its final act, which, rather than conform to formula, finally dares to step in another direction. That poses a genuinely haunting question that lingers after the credits have run – a hint of fascinating, and original, territory still to be explored. Should it have been introduced earlier? Or give rise to a sequel? Or is it so effective precisely because, unlike all the other overdone moments, it’s a smart display of restraint? Either way, you still sense Mark Neveldine has a thrilling horror movie in him. This one just isn’t it.