The Vatican Tapes

Posted by Joel Copling on July 24, 2015

Above all else, "The Vatican Tapes" is an intriguing and disarming audio/visual experience, courtesy of the strange atmosphere built effectively by a production team that has outdone itself here. Director Mark Neveldine, composer Joseph Bishara, cinematographer Gerardo Madrazo, and editor Eric Potter are all firing on every cylinder here and using every bit of cunning they possess to frighten the audience. The more conventional attempts to jolt the viewer don't always work (There are multiple fake-outs and a couple of flickering lights) but sit in the backseat to a premise that has compassion for its protagonist and an intelligent, unnerving final act that approaches the supernatural entity at its core as almost precisely the be-all-end-all of onscreen demons.

It doesn't get off to a good start, though, falling into the annoying trap of the flash-forward prologue with Peter Andersson and Djimon Hounsou as a cardinal and vicar with the Catholic Church in Vatican City investigating a new spiritual threat. Her name is Angela (Olivia Dudley), and two months previously it was her birthday. Dad Roger (Dougray Scott) surprises her for it after some time away, and it was boyfriend Pete's (John Patrick Amedori) doing. After cutting herself with a knife and, almost immediately upon discharge from the hospital, being bitten by a passing raven, Angela goes through some alarming changes: She drinks entire bottles of water in one go, falls into a sleep that more resembles a coma, and acts aggressively toward those around her.

Soon the condition reveals itself to be something far more sinister, however, and the screenplay by Christopher Borrelli and Michael C. Martin falls into a comfortable routine of various figures testing the supernatural capabilities of whatever is controlling Angela's movements. This is where the style overtakes the substance in a real way, ratcheting up tension with absurd ease and mounting sequences with almost expressionistic tendencies. There's a bus crash that captures its complete incomprehensibility, a car crash that does the same thing perhaps even better, and a pair of terrifying sequences set in the hospital to which Angela goes after falling into a coma and the mental facility to which she is remanded afterward. It's a treasure trove of real, psychological terror.

And it's sort of at odds with the familar premise that takes all the usual turns, which means that, yes, the third act is an attempt to rid Angela of the demon (or what it truly ends up being, which is far less simple) by way of an exorcism from Cardinal Bruun (Andersson) and Father Lozano (Michael Pena). The scene, however, is just as unnerving as everything that came before it because of that disarming editing and score, as well as Dudley, whose performance as the instantly likable Angela is as physically torturous as it likely was psychologically demanding (The other performances are fine, but this is her show). "The Vatican Tapes" doesn't reinvent the wheel of a tired subgenre, but it does approach it with scares and style to spare.

Film Information

Olivia Dudley (Angela), Michael Pena (Father Lozano), Dougray Scott (Roger Holmes), John Patrick Amedori (Pete), Kathleen Robertson (Dr. Richards), Peter Andersson (Cardinal Bruun), Djimon Hounsou (Vicar Imani).

Directed by Mark Neveldine and written by Christopher Borrelli and Michael C. Martin.

Rated PG-13 (disturbing violent content, sexual references).

91 minutes.

Released on July 24, 2015.