A raven appears, a girl acts strangely, and something bad happens. A priest notices perceptibly. How long would it take for him to call out the Vatican?
Long enough for poor Angela (Dudley) to be put through coma, mental hospital, pyschiatric sessions, before finally exorcism, through the course of which she becomes a paler and paler version of herself.
But that’s the good part. For Dudley is what Kristen Stewart should look like on seeing vampires in the Twilight series, if better sense and a stronger sun prevailed. Given a role where she is largely confined to a sitting or reclining position and chasing ghosts, Dudley does well with just changes of expression in her eyes, or only the tilt of her face or eyebrows — to show the constant shifts from a normal girl to a raging devil.
Add a few contortions to this, and not much more really happens in The Vatican Tapes — though the film derives its name from the visual evidence that the Church has been apparently collecting since the 1900s of the devil’s presence in the world.
The handsome Hounsou looks promisingly at a rather chic computer screen at the beginning, and never even leaves the Vatican premises. The talented Pena accompanies Angela and her squabbling father (Scott) and boyfriend (Amedori) through their travails, but does little more than hold up the cross at crucial times. Scott and Amedori promise an interesting rivalry for Angela’s affections, before that strand quickly goes limp and is dropped.
It’s only Kathleen Robertson, in a brief but arresting appearance as Angela’s psychiatrist, who shows flashes of giving Dudley a run for her money. Robertson’s Dr Richards is too perfectly dolled up to not be sinister, but sadly Neveldine doesn’t explore the angle.
The exorcism itself, where we might expect to get our money’s worth, is an almost amusing mix of the bizarre and the banal. In a room much too crowded with defenceless witnesses, a stern cardinal from the Vatican talks the holy trinity, sprinkles the holy water, wields the holy dagger, and extracts some wholesome eggs.
Neveldine clearly is looking at an encore. But that isn’t even the most disturbing thought. All of what happens to Angela — from the first cut in her finger while slicing a cake and the stitches at the hospital, to her brief admission in hospital and the Biblical 40 days she spends in coma, to the horror that follows — is captured on video or CCTV.
It isn’t horror if it isn’t on tape. Even for God.
Cast: Olivia Taylor Dudley, Michael Pena, Dougray Scott, Djimon Hounsou, John Patrick Amedori, Kathleen Robertson
Director: Mark Neveldine