The Devil and Father Amorth
Father Gabriele Amortha performs his ninth exorcism on an Italian woman.
April 20th, 2018
There’s a line in William Friedkin’s classic, The Exorcist, where Father Karras (Jason Miller) and Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) chat about what he’s just experienced during his first visit with Chris’s potentially possessed daughter Regan (Linda Blair):
“Look, your daughter doesn’t say she’s a demon. She says she’s the devil himself. Now if you’ve seen as many psychotics as I have, you realize that’s the same thing as saying you’re Napoleon Bonaparte.”
The reason I bring up this quote, is that is perfectly sums up my take on Friedkin’s latest film, The Devil and Father Amorth.
It’s a documentary about a long-time Catholic priest named Father Amorth, and his lengthy history in the exorcism biz. Friedkin directed the film, and also serves as the film’s narrator. When he gets the chance to watch Father Amorth in action – working to liberate a middle-aged Italian woman named Cristina – Friedkin takes only himself and one camera (he’s allowed no production staff or lighting equipment) in to behold and record the actual exorcism rite.
I’ll say this right off of the bat: It’s not a very entertaining film. With the staying power and ability to terrify – The Exorcist deserves its status as a true classic. And it’s certainly never boring.
If you’d have told me that this 1973 Oscar-winning film which I’ve seen dozens of times in my life – that I would one day find a film about exorcisms boring – I’d have thrown back at you, “Dimmy, why did you do this to me?”
The Devil and Father Amorth clocks in at a quick 68 minutes (not even a feature-length film in some quarters), but it feels much longer.
The film opens with a quick recap of The Exorcist and its beginnings – from Friedkin touring locations used in the film, to the late William Peter Blatty recounting the inspirations for the novel (he would go on to write the film’s screenplay as well).
Frankly, had this been a revisit to that classic film, I might have found it more interesting.
But eventually, we’ll see an “actual” exorcism at the hands of the titular Father Amorth and Cristina. Then Friedkin will interview several other folks to get their take on the recorded event.
On a personal note, all of this hubbub surrounding the exorcism and the many believers in the room – I found patently absurd.
I have no proof that “it wasn’t real”, but Cristina’s “demon-voice” sounded as if there were a few tweaks to the sound-board in post-production. I absolutely didn’t buy it. And on that same note – I was scanning all of Cristina’s family members in the background of the exorcism, just waiting for someone to “break character”. It didn’t happen, but that’s how much I didn’t fall into the world of the film.
I didn’t care for the overall structure of the film either. To show the actual exorcism before the halfway point – and then follow it up with interview after interview – was a bad choice. There could easily have been more of a build-up to the actual procedure, thus revving up audience anticipation. Of course, when the exorcism turned out to be as bland as it was – perhaps there would have been a complaint there as well.
And with the title (a take on The Devil and Daniel Webster, perhaps?) The Devil and Father Amorth – it seemed ripe for an in-depth tale of this priest’s history. Sure, there are some historical points of interest along the way, but I think a more intriguing take would have been to really go all-in on this man’s life. Amorth “thumbs his nose” to Satan before each exorcism – so clearly, this old guy has a sense of humor. And what other stories could he have told about his 30 years of exorcisms? Quickly glossing over his life to get to the Cristina exorcism and then to a barrage of wishy-washy and haphazard interviews with “experts” – feels like a lost opportunity.
I thought it was odd that the majority of the interviews Friedkin conducted (with neurologists, psychiatrists and religious leaders), were done with a handheld camera. As I mentioned above, he was only allowed the one camera in for the exorcism, but then why weren’t set-ups actually done with a tri-pod, perhaps some more interesting locations (the most fascinating interview was with a Catholic Bishop out of Los Angeles – where they sat in some outdoor patio with random furniture and cushions splayed about in the background) and certainly some better sound when those more “professional” chances arose? Most of the interview sound was echo-y and hollow.
There’s a brief recollection (told only with quick-cut images and Friedkin’s narration) of a final meeting with Cristina in a remote village church. He throws off the admission, “I didn’t bring in my camera, but this is what happened.” Really? It’s a documentary about this woman’s exorcism (at least partially) – and when the most crazy (and potentially terrifying) episode with her happens, you don’t have a camera on-hand to record it?
And frankly – Friedkin is one helluva filmmaker (present company excluded), but as a narrator and an on-screen host – not at all engaging.
And to wrap around to my earlier quote from The Exorcist – am I to believe that Cristina is really possessed? The entity supposedly inside of her, claims that he is Satan himself. The way I see it, that line of dialogue from Father Karras – sort of negates what we’re seeing here. No.
Do yourself a favor and simply revisit the original fictional horror tale which takes place in a home in Georgetown. Follow Regan and Chris MacNeil as they venture into hell itself. That’s far more interesting (and horrifying) than what is presented here.
The Devil and Father Amorth is scheduled for a limited theatrical release on April 20th, 2018 and for a DVD/VOD release on April 24th, 2018.