What scares you the most? Is it ghosts? A guy with a knife in a mask? Clowns? For screenwriter Christopher Borrelli, coming up with The Vatican Tapes, a new horror movie in theaters today, was an exploration of childhood fears and adult realizations. The exorcism subgenre is a popular one and Borrelli, who is the author behind the novel Islands of Stone and the upcoming sequel Islands of Ghosts, filled us in on the real-life cases that inspired the film, including a failed exorcism of Pope John Paul II.
Starting at the beginning, where did this idea for a script involving demonic possession come from? “Well, there’s two ways to answer that,” Borrelli revealed. “One would be from my own childhood, from, late at night, thinking about making sure I didn’t talk to the devil late at night [and] being frightened of things beyond myself, you know? With a scary shark movie or a monster movie or a killer or any of the things you can be frightened of, there always feels like there’s a way you can get away from them. But how can you get away from something that gets in your own mind, or finds its way into you, that’s all-knowing in many ways or almost all-powerful? So that, to me, would frighten me from childhood on; I had many, not just sleepless nights – that would’ve been easy – but I had nights of true worry and I truly was frightened of the devil or demons and so it was a real backdrop — it was a part of my childhood.”
From there, he developed the idea with a little help from his friends, like producer and Furious 5, 6 & 7 screenwriter Chris Morgan. “As far as the concrete way the script came about, it really came from just a couple guys hanging out late at night. I used to share an office with a group of screenwriters and Chris Morgan and I were hanging out one night and I pitched him a not-very-good idea I had… And Morgan listened politely and then gave me a much — it turned into a much better idea he had. And that was the beginning of The Vatican Tapes.” According to Borrelli, The Duff scribe Josh A. Cagan also lent a hand and came up with one of the film’s biggest twists. Teamwork!
All kidding aside, Borrelli did some serious research on the Vatican and Catholic exorcisms and what he found was pretty crazy, ultimately leading to some of the major themes in the film. “In the research we did, Pope John Paul II did at least two exorcisms while he was Pope and one of them, all we know is it failed – I don’t know what that means. But that’s how powerful it is, if you fall into this world and you research, that’s how powerful it seems to be – the Pope can do your exorcism and it still might not work.”
He continued, explaining, “We took pains in the script to make our characters modern, especially our priests: to make them people that know that most of what is considered demonic possession over the past 2,000 years would be some version of schizophrenia or some other mental condition. And so, when it comes in our film that this is a real possession, the priests are as surprised as anybody else because, again, they’re modern people, like us – they’re us.”
Borrelli elaborated on this idea, specifically in regards to Angela (played by Olivia Taylor Dudley), the character that ultimately ends up inhabited by the demonic spirit. “This is a modern person,” Borrelli explained. “So the far-reaching idea is, what if this happened to you? Or happened to your girlfriend or your lover? Or what if this happened to you? So that’s why that’s a person that’s us. She’s a regular person and she no more thinks this is gonna happen than she’s gonna be struck by lightning – she has a better chance of being struck by lightning. But, when it happens – and it happens gradually – and that character has her own internal struggle because she can feel it happening and she’s looking for help, but help, you know, may not be coming.”
The Vatican Tapes, starring Olivia Taylor Dudley, Michael Peña, Dougray Scott, Djimon Hounsou, Peter Andersson, Kathleen Robertson and John Patrick Amedori, is in theaters now.
Image Credits: Pantelion Films