[Chattanooga Film Festival 2018] Review: THE DEVIL AND FATHER AMORTH, Despite Its Run Time, Fascinates
Many of our readers, our staff, our friends, fans and family, will all cite The Exorcist among the highest tier of horror’s pantheon. We’ve all seen it, we know it, we love it and at one point or another it scared the hell out of us. Yet, how many of us are really familiar with the concepts, beliefs and history that inspired the film (and the novel it is based on)? Regardless of one’s religious ideals, exorcism is an absolutely fascinating and often frightening part of Catholicism. (Not that the idea of exorcism is limited to the catholic church, nearly every religion and spiritual practice has its own ways of dealing with evil spirits). So, for fans of the film The Exorcist getting to see what a real-life exorcism looks like is a rare treat and a unique opportunity.
There are few in Hollywood better to walk horror fans through the real world of exorcism than William Friedkin, the director of The Exorcist whose own fascination with the concept and his personal eccentricities make him an ideal host. It is because of Friedkin’s relationship with the subject matter than the first half of the documentary provides some of its most interesting material – particularly for fans of the film – including interviews with William Peter Blatty and visits to the real-world locations that inspired the set of the film. For me, getting to hear Blatty talk about the incident that inspired him to write the novel in the first place was reason enough to watch this documentary.
The bulk of The Devil and Father Amorth focuses on the ninth exorcism of an Italian woman called “Christine” who has been struggling with the presence of a malevolent spirit for a long while. The titular Father Amorth (the Reverend Gabriele Amorth) is no stranger to those keyed in to pop culture controversies. A fascinating figure in his own, Father Amorth was at the forefront of those in the Catholic Church who deemed Harry Potter evil and proclaimed that yoga is satanic. Controversies aside, he was a freedom fighter in Nazi occupied Rome in 1943 eventually being awarded the Medal of Liberation and served as a priest in the catholic church for over sixty years performing tens of thousands of exorcisms. He even cites The Exorcist as his favorite film saying that it brought an important light to the world in regards to what exorcists do. One of the frustrating elements of this documentary is that it touches on so many interesting topics without really digging in to them. Father Amorth would be a great topic for a full documentary himself.
Friedkin is allowed to view the attempted ninth exorcism of “Christine” and the single camera filming he is allowed to do is the large center piece. What you see, and what you experience is going to be entirely dependent on your own belief on the subject. I will extract all of my own opinions and simply say that the topic is endlessly interesting and this documentary provides a rare insight into the actual practice. Friedkin also provides an alternative point of view when he talks with professional psychologists and neurosurgeons, discussing what could be happening inside of someone’s brain to make them think they’re being possessed by the Devil. Again, a very interesting topic that is given a frustratingly brief amount of screen time.
The biggest thing working against The Devil and Father Amorth is it’s run time, clocking in at just over an hour there is enough material that it probably should have been longer to allow its concepts to be more thoroughly explored. As it stands, it is a worthwhile watch for fans of The Exorcist or the topic of exorcism in general.