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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Vatican Tapes

October 18th, 2015

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The Vatican Tapes

The Vatican Tapes is a horror film that includes elements of found footage. (It was actually originally written to be entirely found footage, but that was changed early in the production.) This genre is well off its peak in terms of popularity and even the fact that it had some connection to found footage was enough to kill its buzz. It also opened in "select cities", which is a terrible release strategy in general, and especially bad for horror films. It opened below the Mendoza Line (earning less that $2,000 per theater) before disappearing from theaters. Is it really that bad? Or did it struggle because of genre overload?

The Movie

The film begins with news clips and footage talking about the anti-Christ and demonic possessions. We learn of the Vatican's program to train exorcists and how for the past 100 years they've recorded every demonic possession they've come across. We then see two priests, Vicar Imani and Cardinal Mattias Bruun, looking at footage of a possible possession victim, whom we soon learn is Angela.

We then flash back in time before Angela was possessed. It's her 25th birthday and things are going well, but she accidentally cuts herself and her dad, Pete, and her boyfriend, Roger, take her to the hospital. She's really scared of hospitals, but a priest Father Lozano gives her a word of encouragement. We also learn that the priest, like Angela's dad, were soldiers. Pete rose up the ranks while Father Lozano saw too much fighting and decided to become a priest.

This part of the movie goes on way too long, but eventually we start seeing Angela acting strange. At least I'm assuming she's acting strange. We haven't gotten to know her enough to really judge. It's a paradox, but this part takes too long and we don't get to know the characters enough to matter. I think the problem is all of the characters are just way too generic. We can't get to know the characters better, because there's nothing there to know.

Once Angela is fully possessed, does the movie get better? Yes. It gets much better. The more Angela becomes possessed, the better Olivia Taylor Dudley's performance becomes. Imagine that. Give an actor something to do and they rise to the occasion. Snark aside, once the action starts to happen, the movie actually becomes something worth watching, for the most part. Not only does the movie take too long to get interesting, the ending sets up a sequel rather than giving us closure, which is sure to annoy many audience members. Personally, I would have rather seen the movie that was setup rather than this movie.

The Extras

The extras are better than expected, given its box office performance. It starts with an audio commentary track featuring Mark Neveldine, the director; Gerardo Mateo Madrazo, the DP; and Olivia Taylor Dudley, the star. There is also a nearly 30-minute making of featurette and nearly 30 minutes of deleted / extended scenes.

The technical presentation is fine. It's a low budget horror film and a lot of the scenes are dark, so there are not a lot of places to let the visuals shine. However, this isn't the transfer's fault. The audio is weaker. The dialog is clear, but there's very little separation here and nothing that really stands out as taking advantage of the surround sound speakers.

The Blu-ray costs $13, which is $1 or 8% more than the DVD. That's a great deal.

The Verdict

There are parts of The Vatican Tapes that work, but in the end, it feels like an overly long opening act for a much better movie. There are better than expected extras on the DVD and Blu-ray and the price is low, so if you liked the movie, it is worth picking up. However, even if you are a fan of the genre, I don't think it is worth it. There are too many better options.

Filed under: Video Review, The Vatican Tapes, John Patrick Amedori, Djimon Hounsou, Mark Neveldine, Michael Peña, Dougray Scott, Peter Andersson, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Gerardo Mateo Madrazo