Taglines: For 2,000 years the Vatican has recorded evidence of evil. May God have mercy on their souls.
The Vatican Tapes follows the ultimate battle between good and evil – God versus Satan. Angela Holmes (Olivia Taylor Dudley) 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 (Michael Pena) to wage war for more than just Angela’s soul, but for the world as we know it.
The Vatican Tapes is an American supernatural horror film directed by Mark Neveldine from a screenplay written by Christopher Borrelli, which is in turn based on a story by Chris Morgan and Christopher Borrelli. The film stars Olivia Taylor Dudley, Kathleen Robertson, Michael Peña, Djimon Hounsou, Dougray Scott, and John Patrick Amedori, and was released on July 24, 2015, by Lionsgate Films.
About the Production
“A demon’s greatest threat is not to your body, but your soul.” – Cardinal Bruun
Enter the terrifying world of The Vatican Tapes. From the filmmakers of the hit The Exorcism of Emily Rose, this horror-thriller dives into a modern day story of good and evil, while exploring the devastating and widespread consequences of a demonic possession.
“This is a story about an ordinary girl, Angela,” says director, Mark Neveldine. “She descends into a dark hole where terrifying things start to happen, but no one can figure out the cause of it. As horrifying incidents escalate, we find out that Angela’s body has been consumed by the anti-Christ.”
Lakeshore’s President and film producer Gary Lucchesi adds: “The big idea of The Vatican Tapes is that in a secret vault in the Vatican, there is an immense library that chronicles all of the possession incidents since the beginning of the Catholic faith.”
“It’s a modern film about a woman who is consumed by demonic possession. People around her try to help her, and they try to treat her unknown condition,” says screenwriter, Christopher Borrelli. “Then at a certain point in the film, the priests and doctors realize that they’re dealing with a demon.”
The Vatican Tapes began when Lionsgate and Lakeshore Entertainment received the haunting spec script that took the classic horror concept of demonic possession and elevated it to an even more chilling level by introducing the anti-Christ.
“Originally Chris Morgan and I came up with this idea to do an exorcism film that felt grounded and real,” explains screenwriter, Christopher Borrelli. “It’s supposed to have relatable people and a relatable world—the world we see every single day around us, yet something is a little different.”
“It was a spec screenplay by Chris Borelli, which we received at same time as Lionsgate. We have a very good relationship with the studio, so we decided to by the script together,” recalls Gary Lucchesi.
The producers went in search of a director who could connect to the material in a personal way, as well as bring a visceral and cutting edge style to the film. They found that combination in Mark Neveldine, who had acted as a director, cinematographer and camera operator in previous films such as the fast-paced action-thriller, Crank, starring Jason Statham.
“Mark is an extraordinarily creative guy on set. He’s constantly moving and there’s a kinetic energy he brings to production, which is infectious,” states producer, Richard Wright.
“Mark Neveldine responded to the material and brought a sense of what the Vatican is really like today,” Gary Lucchesi adds. “He brings a lot of energy to the film, but in this particular instance, he also contributes a great understanding of the Catholic faith and demonic possession.”
Mark Neveldine, having gone to Catholic school, had a personal grasp on the world of The Vatican Tapes, and after discussing the project with producers, Tom Rosenberg and Gary Lucchesi, he jumped aboard the project. “I’ve always wanted to do a possession film. Something supernatural, but grounded in reality,” says Neveldine.
Neveldine collaborated with Lakeshore on the script, focusing on how to balance fantastical elements and reality. They found that equilibrium by developing the main female protagonist, Angela, and her relationship with her father.
“Angela is the everyday girl that we all know. While she hasn’t done anything wrong, this possession befell her and as we follow her chilling journey, we are rooting for her to overcome the devil,” explains Borrelli.
“We try to ground the film in reality and add a human element to the story,” says screenwriter, Michael C. Martin. “We found that human emotion by developing the relationship between Angela and her father, Roger.”
Along with incorporating the human emotion to the film, the filmmakers looked for ways to rewrite the rules of the horror-thriller genre. “There are no decapitations, there are no blood sprays, and there aren’t any knives stabbing eyeball scenes. There are none of the normal grab-bag of tricks that you use in a horror film. This is more about subtlety. This film demonstrates the slow build and the slow escalation of dread,” explains Wright.
“This is a film about demonic possession that can consume anybody. We don’t try to pull any punches,” says Neveldine. “We’re not trying to look for any jump scares. Instead, I want to get under peoples’ skin.”
Priests, Demons and a Normal Girl
While making sure that the story of The Vatican Tapes was grounded in reality, the filmmakers needed to find a leading female protagonist who embodied normalcy but had the ability to carry out Angela’s complex and emotional demonic possession. They found that in Olivia Taylor Dudley, who was notably in Oren Peli’s horror film, The Chernobyl Diaries as well as other films such as Moneyball and The Dictator.
“Angela is both the villain and the victim. She is the lead of the movie and the heart and soul, so we went through a very long and focused process in casting,” says Gary Lucchesi. “We were very much taken by Olivia’s ability to balance vulnerability with toughness.”
Director Mark Neveldine expands on the long process of searching for the right actress to play Angela. “We went through a hundred casting tapes and we brought in fifty girls, and kept looking. We had a couple girls that we really liked but they just didn’t have that X factor.”
Finally, the casting director, Tricia Wood, contacted the filmmakers and asked them to read Olivia Taylor Dudley. “Olivia came in and within ten seconds I said, ‘This is Angela.’” remarks Neveldine. “We all knew it. You just felt it. She’s really impressive. She’s the anchor of the film and what makes it work.”
While the filmmakers were quickly drawn to Taylor Dudley upon first impression, the actress also had a strong initial reaction to the script. “I read the script and it actually gave me a nightmare, which never happens,” recalls Taylor Dudley. “I read the screenplay at night and the very next day I called up my agents and told them I needed to be a part of this film. It affected me and made me feel something.”
The character Angela begins as a normal, healthy girl, but as the story progresses, she spirals into a possessed and demonic state, requiring Taylor Dudley to challenge herself emotionally and physically. “The exorcism took us six days to shoot and it was twenty-two pages. It was so physically demanding, especially being chained to the wall screaming. It was exhausting,” explains Taylor Dudley.
Angela’s descent into darkness and evil is combatted by several figures of the church, most notably Father Lozano, an ex-military soldier turned priest, who becomes deeply involved in Angela’s condition, and ultimately the battle of good versus evil.
Taking on the role of Father Lozano is Michael Peña, whose distinguished body of work includes his roles in Paul Haggis’ Oscar® winning film Crash, Clint Eastwood’s Oscar® winning film Million Dollar Baby, and the recent Oscar® nominated film, American Hustle.
Peña was initially drawn to the film by the uniqueness of the script as well as his relationship with producers, Tom Rosenberg and Gary Lucchesi. “I was initially interested in the script because it wasn’t written like a typical horror movie,” says Peña. “There were action sequences and unique elements to this thriller film, but they’re justified by the plot. I also have a longstanding relationship with Tom Rosenberg and Gary Lucchesi.”
The filmmakers were thrilled that Peña joined the cast. “I’m incredibly happy and honored that he did this film,” says Neveldine. “I think he was drawn in by the opportunity to do a movie with great actors and a script that was really well written.”
Neveldine recalls Peña’s impromptu contributions to the screenplay on set: “He actually tweaked a lot of the script lines. He responded to the character’s layers and took it to the next level by really expanding upon the role of Father Lozano.”
Father Lozano not only attempts to save Angela, but he also becomes a confidant of her father, Roger Holmes. A Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army, Roger is an extremely tough man whose only weakness is the love he has for his daughter. A father in real, Dougray Scott was cast as the Roger to Taylor Dudley’s Angela.
“I can’t see anyone else in that role,” asserts Neveldine. “Dougray is the most passionate actor I’ve ever worked with. He’s remarkable as Roger and he’s a dad in real life. He’s a very disciplined actor.”
Scott had a relationship with the producers and was also attracted to the story and genre. “They sent me the script and it’s a genre that I haven’t done much. I loved the screenplay. I thought it was very gripping, incredibly well written, and I particularly loved the relationships between the characters.”
Scott and Taylor Dudley immediately found a father-daughter connection on set. Taylor Dudley recalls, “Dougray’s phenomenal. I had never met him before this film, but he immediately started acting like my dad and took care of me on set. He’s very warm.”
Once the scope of Angela’s demonic possession heightens, the news of her state reaches the Catholic Church officials, including Vicar Imani. Playing the role of the Vatican-based Vicar is Djimon Hounsou, an Oscar® nominated actor for his performance in Blood Diamond as well as his role in In America.
It was director Mark Neveldine that initially brought Hounsou aboard the film. “He’s hypnotizing,” states Neveldine. “We worked on a motorcycle movie a long time ago, and we had always wanted to work together again.”
Hounsou brought a powerful presence to the character of Vicar Imani, which was rooted in his perception of the role. He explains, “Vicar Imani is the new 21st century warrior of God who is fighting to revolutionize exorcism. He’s the lower foot soldier of God, trying to protect against all Satan attributes.”
Aiding Father Lozano and Roger Holmes in the climactic exorcism scenes is Cardinal Bruun, who travels from the Vatican to Angela’s home after viewing disturbing tapes of her possessed behavior. “We were very luck to have cast Peter Andersson for the role of Cardinal Bruun,” remarks Lucchesi. “Peter is best known for his role in the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and The Vatican Tapes is his first U.S. appearance. He was magnificent.”
“Peter is a powerhouse,” Neveldine expands. “You could cut forty trailers just with Peter’s lines in the movie because he has such a commanding presence. I’ve never worked with an actor who uses his voice as an instrument. It’s amazing.”
The Swedish actor approached the role in a straightforward manner, not focusing on how his character would be perceived, but rather on what his character must do to battle evil. “I wanted to play it straight forward because I don’t care whether he’s perceived as being sympathetic or unsympathetic. The Cardinal’s mission is to save this girl and save her soul. It’s a tough job when you tangle with the devil.”
In the early stages of Angela’s possession, when her behavior is still inexplicably disturbing, she is institutionalized under the care of psychologist, Dr. Richards. Bringing a twisted complexity to the role of Dr. Richards is Kathleen Robertson, who recently starred on Gus Van Sant’s Golden Globe-winning political drama Boss and is currently starring on TNT drama series, Murder in the First.
Robertson not only found herself allured by the fresh take on the thriller genre, but she was simultaneously drawn to the layered role of a flawed psychologist.
“In a truer deeper way the film is very psychological and the script was very complex. It had so many different elements and so many different layers,” adds Robertson. “Every time you thought you knew where the story was going, it took a turn, and those are always the best stories.”
Neveldine also understood the challenges in portraying the role of Dr. Richards and was pleased with Robertson’s ability to handle the intensity. “Kathleen saved me in those difficult scenes. It’s a hard role,” Neveldine explains. “She had to play a clever, yet biting character. She had to be very commanding. Kathleen is a great actress and she really elevated her scenes.”
“What appealed to me was the idea of this woman, who has all of the answers and knows the rule book to life and can fix anyone, but she clearly can’t fix herself,” explains Robertson.
Playing opposite Olivia Taylor Dudley as her boyfriend, Pete, the filmmakers cast John Patrick Amedori, who also focused on the grounded reality of the story. “It was really important for me to portray a realistic relationship between Pete and Angela,” remarks Amedori. “When the fantastical elements begin to take place, we wanted to make sure their relationship is believable.”
The World of Vatican Tapes
The story of The Vatican Tapes is primarily set in modern day Los Angeles with the exception of a few scenes that take place in and around the Vatican. The filmmakers took advantage of shooting in Los Angeles for a story actually set in L.A., while utilizing clever locations, a discrete traveling film unit in Rome, as well as VFX to create the scenes at Vatican City.
To capture the frenetic and haunting world of The Vatican Tapes, the filmmakers brought on director of photography, Gerardo Madrazo, as well as production designer, Jerry Fleming. “Shooting in L.A. you are working in the center of the film industry,” remarks producer Richard Wright. “There is a level of expertise in L.A. that is really second to none.”
“I always love filming in L.A.,” says producer Tom Rosenberg. “The best crews are local and the city is a great resource for everything.”
There was, however, a need to capture footage outside of Los Angeles, and for that purpose the filmmakers sent a reduced crew to Rome. Wright confides: “We actually sent a crew of people to the Vatican. The Vatican is a city state within the city of Rome, but you can walk right in. If you walk into the Vatican and happen to be hiding a camera under your coat, you can shoot some footage without anyone looking. You can get some interesting and unique shots for your movie.” He muses, “Of course, I would never condone such behavior.”
They also took advantage of the city’s diverse locations. “We shot all over Los Angeles,” producer Gary Lucchesi explains. “We shot Pasadena City Hall for Rome, and we shot in downtown Los Angeles. We shot in very unique locations to capture a fresh look for a horror-thriller.”
While the locations were meant to bring an original and cinematic look to Los Angeles, the director wanted to make sure the world still felt natural and organic. For that he enlisted costume designer, Lindsay McKay and his hair and makeup teams.
“I wanted it to just be a slice of life,” describes Neveldine. “I think Lindsay McKay did a great job with the costumes and with keeping the world of the film very real. Our hair and make-up teams also worked hard to keep our characters looking natural.”
The Vatican Tapes
Directed by: Mark Neveldine
Starring: Kathleen Robertson, Michael Peña, Djimon Hounsou, Dougray Scott, John Patrick Amedori, Tehmina Sunny, Olivia Taylor Dudley, John Patrick Amedori
Screenplay by: Christopher Borrelli
Production Design by: Jerry Fleming
Cinematography by: Gerardo Mateo Madrazo
Film Editing by: Eric Potter
Costume Design by: Lindsay McKay
Music by: Joseph Bishara
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing violent content, and some sexual references.
Studio: Lionsgate Films
Release Date: July 24, 2015