The Exorcism: a sophisticated, metacinematic take on genre

Russell Crowe is back in the cassock for a multilayered horror from Joshua John Miller that falls flat in the third act.

Russell Crowe as Anthony Miller in The Exorcism (2024)

“I have lost my faith,” says actor Tom (Adrian Pasdar), highlighting the line in the script (provisionally titled The Georgetown Project) that he holds in his hands. He walks through – indeed does a walkthrough of – a house that is also visibly a giant set on a soundstage. Reaching the upper floor’s bedroom, he shouts “I cast thee out, Molech!” and, looking at the script, summarises: “Then she barfs, she screams, and I die.” Moments later, under apparent supernatural assault, Tom does in fact die. 

In blurring the line between horror films and filmmaking, this prologue to The Exorcism makes it clear that writer-director Joshua John Miller is once more, as in his previous The Final Girls (2015), offering a sophisticated, metacinematic take on genre. Even as we go behind the scenes of a reimagining of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), we also witness a film production itself cursed by something diabolical. 

Tom’s last-minute replacement Anthony Miller has his own problems with faith. Deeply damaged by his experiences as an altar boy, overcome with guilt and self-loathing for his ruinous addiction to intoxicants, grieving his late wife and confused by his feelings towards 16-year old daughter Lee (Ryan Simpkins), Anthony simultaneously hopes for, and despairs of, redemption. Conflicted about playing the already conflicted Father Arlington, Anthony is played by Russell Crowe, recently seen in the title role of Julius Avery’s The Pope’s Exorcist (2023). As Anthony goes off his medication and relapses into drinking, he begins to act less like an exorcist and more like someone possessed. “Maybe he’s being too method.” suggests Father Conor (David Hyde Pierce), present as advisor to the shoot. This real priest, who is also a clinical psychologist, is about to join Anthony, Lee, and Lee’s new girlfriend Blake (Chloe Bailey) on set for some extreme role-play involving transference, projection and possibly a real demon. 

“This is a psychological drama wrapped in the skin of a horror movie,” says the director Peter (Adam Goldberg) of his film, in words applying equally to The Exorcism itself. For not only is Miller’s film staging the internal tensions that risk turning Anthony into a destructive monster, and not only does Miller give this father and daughter his own surname, but Miller himself is a child of Jason Miller (d.2001), who famously played Father Karras in the original The Exorcist. It is just a pity, after such a layered, reflexive exploration of trauma, abuse, faith, family and legacy, that the coda falls flat and fails to convert.

 ► The Exorcism is in UK cinemas now.