In a chilling new documentary, Oscar-winning director William Friedkin returns to the roots of one of the most successful horror films of all time, his frightening film of William Peter Blatty’s bestseller The Exorcist. That 1973 classic had audiences fainting in their seats, became a box office sensation and was nominated for 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture and won two.
But that film was fiction. As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), his new documentary, 45 years later, is the real thing. In the compelling The Devil and Father Amorth, Friedkin takes his camera to witness a real exorcism on a woman named Cristina (a pseudonym) that represents the ninth such attempt to rid her of demons that have plagued her for much of her life. The filmmaker, who was the only outsider allowed in and operates the camera, serves as host and narrator. He says this is the first time he ever witnessed an exorcism, and it comes organically through a connection he made with Father Gabrielle Amorth, who has been the lead exorcist of the Diosese of Rome for for 30 years.
Amorth is a great interview subject and gives credibility to the practice simply by letting Friedkin witness it, along with Cristina and her family in the room. The 68-minute feature documentary he has made explores all the theories of the ancient practice of exorcism in the Catholic Church over the centuries and includes interviews with psychiatrists, doctors, experts, priests and skeptics. In a couple of filmed interviews, the late author Blatty — who won an Oscar for his screenplay — also is interviewed about the real-life 1949 exorcism of a 14-year-old boy that became the basis of his inspiration to write the novel in the first place. That section alone offers compelling evidence for believers.
Friedkin also returns to the exact house and Georgetown locations of the 1973 film that still manages to scare audiences to death. Interestingly, Friedkin does all this without ever resorting to showing any clips of that film — a good decision since its vivid images of Linda Blair as Regan, the possessed young girl at its center with her head spinning around and expletives pouring from her mouth as the devil takes control of her body — still are ingrained in the memory anyway. Friedkin’s point also seems to be that this is a serious documentary exploring the subject of exorcisms and not with the necessary movie elements that made his first foray into this world so memorably terrifying.
The Devil and Father Amorth is the perfect companion piece to the earlier film, and you walk away from it with intriguing truths and questions about the whole nature and reality of exorcisms. The film analyzes it all methodically, medically, logically and spiritually, but those who want to believe have no real concrete reason to back away from those beliefs after Friedkin lays it all out on the table here. Those who still think it is just Hollywood fiction can hang on to that as well. No matter what you believe, it cannot be denied that Friedkin, in going back to his own documentary roots, has made a fascinating and rare piece of cinema taking us front and center into the real-world Exorcist. The Orchard opens the film today in New York and L.A., followed by other cities and a VOD release.
Do you plan to see The Devil and Father Amorth? Let us know what you think.