In 1972 William Friedkin made “The Exorcist”. Now, fourty years later, he got the opportunity to film a real exorcism. He travels to Rome, Italy, to meet Father Gabrielle Amorth, a priest and the Vatican’s Exorcist in Chief himself who’s performed over 50.000 exorcisms. During the documentary he was 91 years old and a bit fragile, but showed no sign of slowing down. There are 60 million people in Italy and we learn that 500.000 of them are seeing an exorcist every year. Yikes.
One of them is the 47-year old Christina who claims to be possessed by the devil (or 89 (!) demons as claimed in an online article), and Father Amorth have exorcised her eight times without any success. In this documentary, “The Devil and Father Amorth”, we’ll witness the ninth attempt. And Friedkin was allowed by the Vatican to film the session, but only with a small video camera and without any crew. And according to this documentary, The Vatikan has never allowed any exorcisms to be filmed before. So I bet Mr. Friedkin was as excited as a kid on Christmas morning to finally witness the real deal, and show it to the world.
And after we briefly meet Christina, I wish there was a lot more focus on her and how she functions in the everyday-life while supposedly being possessed by 89 freakin’ demons. Seriously. How does she even get out of bed? How is she being able to do anything? And how does her boyfriend and family handle the situation? And this being the ninth time she’s being exorcised, she sure looks pretty healthy with her make-up an all. She gives a quick interview before the exorcism session starts, while she smiles and acts like she’s waiting for her turn to do an audition for a song contest, Italian Idol, or something. But no, there’s no in-depth with her, she just comes and goes. Is she really possessed, mentally ill or just a really bad actress who wants some attention? Still, Father Amorth is certainly convinced that she’s possessed.
And then the session begins in Father Amorth’s office with Christina’s family and relatives as witnesses. And oh’boy oh’boy what a cringy witnessing that is. If I sat in that room, I would really struggle not to laugh.
I didn’t expect any head-twisting, levitation or anything like that, but if William Friedkin waited 40 years for this, he is in his full right to tell what he really thinks. Well, he does not. And someone in the sound-department had obviously played the zombie-mode of Call of Duty and thought the sound effects from the zombies would be a great idea for a double-toned demon voice. This is an element that many viewers with a brain and common sense have pointed out, and Friedkin was asked directly in an interview with Vulture if there was some manipulation of the voice in post-production. His reply was “I wouldn’t fuck around with that! That’s ridiculous!” Ha ha, yeah right, Mr. Friedkin. With all due respect, we’re not that dumb and naive.
So watching this with an open mind is just plain impossible. It’s also quite amusing that this thing actually “baffled” medics when it was screened at the Venice Film Festival, and a group of doctors watching the exorcism of Christina in a meeting room with a straight face. Like we’ve never seen anything like this before. Bob Larson, anyone? He’s one of the many television evangelists who’s done the same thing for decades, and even though he’s batshit crazy, there’s not much difference in what we see here. But when some ancient dude from the Vatican enters the screen and swings his cruicifix to someones forehead, it’s suddenly somehow believable? Meh..
Spoiler warning: The ending makes it even more questionable and shady when Friedkin sets up a final interview with Christina in a small village outside of Rome. We’re being told that he meets her in a church, which he describes as “trapped in a living nightmare”. And as if all the credibility hasn’t been flushed down the toilet already, he didn’t even take his camera inside… How could this get even worse? To top the level of cringe, he retells the scenario from his memory and adds some dramatic music and sounds of the demon voice in a desperate attempt to give us a climax, or a sort of. So there you have it. “The Call of Duty Zombie-Devil and Father Amorth”. What a joke. It’s hard to tell if this is a mockumentary or not, you’d expect more from a director like William Friedkin, and not a lazy nothingburger like this.
Just before Father Amorth could perform Christina’s tenth exorcism, he dies. Rest in Peace. Now it’s time to call Sam and Dean. Friedkin then gives a quick humble epilogue while standing in front of The Exorcist Steps in Georgetown as a reminder that he at least made one of the greatest horror films of all time.
Director: William Friedkin
Country & year: Italy | USA, 2017
Cast: Gabriele Amorth, Robert Barron, William Friedkin