When I was but a wee lad, the industry joked about how Hollywood movies went out of their way to end on a note that could be fleshed out into a sequel.
Well, the 21st century version of this jest replaces a sequel set-up with the future possibility of franchising the property.
Case in point: …The Pope’s Exorcist?
A majority of the movie plays like yet another retread of The Exorcist formula…until the story doesn’t conclude with the resolution of the possession. Instead, we’re led into a newfangled department of the Vatican, devoted to monitoring the Earth’s haunted soil where the Devil’s 222 fallen demons fell, to forever haunt those who dare to tread on this cursed land.
The Vatican asks The Pope’s Exorcist if he’ll dedicate the rest of his life to hunting down these evildoers.
His right-hand man: “Let’s go to work.”
Russell Crowe: “Let’s go to hell!”
But first, the movie devolves into shameless self-promotion. The final text-card explains that what we’ve just witnessed is based on the writings of the titular Exorcist (a real guy!), and like a missive from the creatives-that-be to the funders-that-hopefully-will-be, the last line reads, “And the books are good.”
Now, this phrase is probably a sadistic riff on “The Good Book” … but it’s also a promise of the quality to come in the series, should it continue.
And just like that, we’re in franchise territory.
The Vatican home-base is like Bond’s lettered team of helpers at MI6, and the denouement’s hint of mythology is similar to The Continental’s introduction in John Wick.
Wick is the gold standard for baking franchisable elements into an otherwise standard movie. Following its general model, Crowe is the Keanu-esque movie star, and what genre fusion is more primed for perpetual commerciality than action horror?
This franchise ambition makes sense (…somewhat?) of the movie’s attempts to establish iconography that audiences will lovingly associate with the series for installments to come (also, what’s When in Romer than papal iconography?). How many random shots are there of Russell Crowe — bedecked head-to-toe in his Johnny Cash Man-in-All-Black fatherly robes — cruising around Italy on his sweet little moped? It’s reminiscent of Wick walking down neon-drenched alleys with his dog, or even the OG Exorcist standing under the illuminated streetlight in front of those Georgetown steps.
Which is to say: these moped sequences feel designed to brand-into-being recognizable imagery for a burgeoning franchise.
A film can dream (nightmare?).
Irony of ironies: Blumhouse, the modern king of horror franchising, is reuniting with David Gordon Green to recreate the franchised success of their Halloween reboot with a remake of the original Exorcist, to be released later this year.
Did The Pope’s Exorcist beat them to the punch? Or is this town big enough for two Exorcism franchises?
Which just goes to show: you can’t trademark a formula.