Angela Holmes is an ordinary 27-year-old until she begins to have a devastating effect on anyone close, causing serious injury and death. Holmes is examined and possession is suspected, but when the Vatican is called upon to exorcise the demon, the possession proves to be an ancient satanic force more powerful than ever imagined. It’s all up to Father Lozano to wage war for more than just Angela’s soul, but for the world as we know it.

The Vatican Tapes is the first feature for director Mark Neveldine without his frequent collaborator, Brian Taylor.  Together, the two have been responsible for hits like Crank, Gamer, and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.  I’m not sure what caused Neveldine to go it alone this time, but if this is the result, I’m ready for more!  While not perfect, The Vatican Tapes is atmospheric, intense and features an all-star cast including Djimon Hounsou, Michael Peña, and Dougray Scott,

The plot begins with a short scene; two priests are viewing a tape of a mental patient who freaks out and reveals a dark presence.  Identifying the entity as the Antichrist, they embark to stop the beginning of the end.  The movie then flashes back in time to reveal the backstory of the patient, Angela (Olivia Taylor Dudley).  Although the prologue is intriguing, this retroactive storytelling technique has always irritated me.  It feels like a cheap gimmick, designed to clumsily grab your attention.

The first part of the film introduces us to Angela, her fianceé (John Patrick Amedori) and her father (Dougray Scott).  We barely get to know Angela before she is plagued by a series of strange occurrences.  She injures her hand while cutting a birthday cake.  A crow attacks her while she is inside a bus, and a manic episode of hers causes a near fatal car crash that plunges her into a coma.  As these events transpire, we are given subtle hints that a dark presence lurks just beneath Angela’s innocent facade.

Most of this setup was tedious for me.  A few moments work, but many don’t.  The scene in which a bird flies into a bus was laughably bad.  Computer animals almost never work in movies, and this was no different.  Still other moments like when Angela cuts her finger didn’t make sense to me (which might be intended).  A lot of this stuff is boring and has been seen in other possession films many times.

The film begins to pick up once Angela wakes from her coma.  It’s here that her monstrous personality traits begin to become more pronounced.  After an accident befalls a detective investigating her case, Angela is committed to a mental hospital and the film takes off.  We finally meet Michael Peña who is the best actor in the film, and the horror becomes more pronounced.  As more people fall before Angela’s wrath, members of the Vatican arrive to take matters into their own hands.

Michael Peña is an astounding actor, skillfully able to portray vastly different characters.  As Father Lozano, Peña is charming and vulnerable.  He is caring and saintly, but we still are able to relate with him.  By the end of the film, though, Father Lozano is completely different and I loved it.  Olivia Taylor Dudley also delivers a standout performance.  She is able to convey innocence, confusion, and pure evil with equal skill.  Dudley has been slowly getting more and more exposure lately starring in The Chernobyl Diaries a couple years ago, Dude Bro Party Massacre 3 this year and the upcoming Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension.  It’s no surprise either;  She’s very talented and quite fetching too.  Most importantly, she can look demonic without too much make-up.

Where The Vatican Tapes really excels, is in the final act.  A surprisingly fresh take on the classic exorcism scenario and a complete left turn in the conclusion completely changed my opinion of the entire film.  While I complained about the narrative choices at the beginning of the film, the promise that they present is fully realized by the film’s finale.  Without spoiling things, I was more excited by the final credits than I was at most points in the film.  This is an example of how the ending of a movie can completely affect your experience with it.

Although the film isn’t great 100% of the time, Neveldine’s assured direction, a terrific cast and a jaw dropping denouement help The Vatican Tapes rise above the throng of mediocre horror.  I can confidently say that I am looking forward to seeing where this story goes next.

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