In 1973, William Friedkin terrified audiences worldwide with The Exorcist: the story of two priests who try to save a possessed young girl changed the story of horror and cinema forever, creating the gold standard for exorcism movies with spinning heads, puking, swearing, and speaking foreign languages. Now, over 40 years later, Friedkin releases The Devil and Father Amorth, documentary that follows the last exorcism performed by the famous Italian exorcist Reverend Gabriele Amorth.
Expectations were high going into this: like most horror fans, I love The Exorcist, and seeing its director tackle and film a real one immediately sparked a lot of interest. The documentary is split in three parts: the first one focuses on how the novel for The Exorcist came to be, on Father Amorth and his life, and on Friedkin’s interest regarding this subject; the second part is the actual exorcism of Cristina (which is actually the 9th exoricsm Amorth performed on her), shot handheld by Friedkin without any use of light or other tools; the third part features doctors and medicians who analyze the footage that was shot, while also showing the aftermath on Cristina’s life.
What is going to make or break the movie for you are your religious beliefs: during the screening about a dozen people left during the exorcism scene because it was bothering them to the core, but, as soon as the credits started rolling, I heard a moltitude of people ridiculing the film because it looked fake. I am in between these two feelings: the longer the exorcism scene went on, the more engaged in it I was, started to get genuine chills in my back; yet I cannot deny that whenever Cristina spoke there was this effect of voice distortion and small echo that always kept me on the fence whether or not what I was watching was real.
As someone who believes in God and was raised Catholic, I do believe in demonic possession and the power of exorcism, but there is always something in the back of my head that knows all of these are just beliefs that influence what could be logical problems. This is what made the third part that more interesting: questioning what we all witnessed, listening to professionals’ opinions, trying to find an answer to the impossible question that is religion… This was all very fascinating, but unfortunately it was presented for the most part in a rather direct and standard way, with a few sequences that use ominous music and quick cuts, recreating the style of the original Exorcist.
Overall, The Devil and Father Amorth is a fascinating documentary that does not reach the great heights that it could have due to a rather conventional approach in its first and third acts, and due to some slow pacing. I was quite intrigued during its 68 minute running time, and left more satisfied than the majority of the audience I saw it with. Definitely not for the very religious and easily stressed.