Horror The Devil and Father Amorth (2017) (5/10)


Staff member
Jan 21, 2013
"It looks like the state we call delirium" - Neil Martin

William Friedkin is of course the dude that brought us what many consider to be the greatest ever horror movie The Exorcist. With The Devil and Father Amorth he returns to his happy horror hunting ground, exorcism, though this time we are talking a documentary and an actual exorcism on screen. Yeah I was grabbing a rain coat; pea soup can get into everything, and was like taking on board a huge grain of salt. With the running time barely scrapping above the hour mark there wasn't a lot of time to invest so end of time belief didn't need to be suspended overly.

The main thrust of the movie is Father Amorth's last exorcism, which is considered a failure and a series of interviews with medical practitioners to discuss that last exorcism. If you really wanted to be harsh you could simply see the movie as a didactic exploration of Friedkin's beliefs and a general weakness in U.S style research that comes to the fore when it is not properly applied. Actually more on that later as the horror genre hasn't been well served by people claiming false research to prove their own beliefs. So did I think the documentary was fair dinkum or was I seeing a lot of smoke and mirrors? - let's check this one out.

I took a bunch of notes while watching this one which end of day didn't prove too arduous as the documentary isn't overly long. One of the major things I wrote down was "DEAR GOD THIS IS BORING", which is perhaps the worst thing you can say about any cinematic effort. For a doco that proclaims to be a true telling of an actual exorcism The Devil and Father Amorth doesn't build up any head of steam but meanders between scenes with no clear direction as to where it is going. We get the exorcism, a bunch of interviews with at best sceptical medical experts and of course the final showdown that is injected into the documentary in some attempt to pull it out of the mire. Okay there was the odd unsettling moment, and by odd I mean few and far between, but not enough to have me screaming in joy.

So the "documentary", yes doing air quotes here, has surprisingly two scribes. Friedkin himself, no stranger to fiction, has naturally put pen to paper and English movie critic Mark Kermode who seems beyond himself with joy over his involvement in the project. While documentaries in the past have of course involved multiple writers, those documentaries are generally more epic in scope rather than what we are viewing here. Considering the documentary is basically a bunch of interviews that don't appear pre-scripted and the actual exorcism itself one is left wondering why we need things scripted, unless, heaven forbid, the power of Christ compelled the writers to create a tad of fiction to liven things up. Didn't work of course but hey thanks for the effort.

Friedkin does throw a few facts onto the table, as they are like a requirement, but doesn't actually mention anything that is conclusive. We learn that over 500k exorcisms are conducted in any given year, clearly the Winchester Bros are asleep at the Impala wheel, but we never learn what the effect of this supposed onslaught by the legions of hell are. Most of us are of course wondering if the combined powers of Psychology and Psychiatric medicine wouldn't be more effective when dealing with this level of mental illness. Witness the actual exorcism conducted by Father Amorth itself, it appears to have worked - modern religious ritual in action, however the victim goes into hysterics when focus moves from her to her Mother and Father. I leave it to the reader to draw their own conclusions, but I think we are talking a women suffering from extreme hysteria here rather than some demonic agency at work. The devil isn't so much making his presence felt as a very sick women is being indulged in her delusions.

The exorcism itself, and yes I know you have been waiting in anticipation for mention of the actual ritual, seems genuine enough with plenty of chanting and family members ensuring a high degree of hysteria. I have no problems with the beliefs of the people involved, they seem to be in battle with the forces of evil, but it is more a lesson in post-production adding some more menace to proceedings than is actually the reality of what is happening. So don't expect spider walks, pea soup, or mention of family members doing anything unnatural in the bowels of hell. At least Father Amorth seems dedicated to the task of driving out what evil may be lurking, and as medical professionals have stated constantly, if it works then rock on.

In the wash up all I'm really seeing is a chick in desperate need of psychiatric help, perhaps if she had access to Facebook and followers for her clear requirements things might resolve themselves.

Naturally Friedkin is going to use some interviews with medical professionals to make his case, but unfortunately for the Director none of the medical experts he talks to are backing his opinions beyond showing some surprise at the exorcism. Each Doctor, as one would expect, is considered in their opinion, but isn't offering the support needed by the documentary. Friedkin is doing his level best to edit things but you can see the naturally scepticism bleeding through. Expert after expert is to a degree humouring the Director, but he fails to note that he in effect argues with his handpicked experts. Even with selected experts and editing nothing is being presented that supports the central truism that the doco is trying to create.

The final explosive confrontation isn't actually captured on film, as the documentarian forgets his camera at the concise time that events might have proved his central argument. Raised eyebrows at the very least, Friedkin can claim anything he wants but without one shred of proof is unable to nail anything. I'm just going to say that I find it incredibly unbelievable that a documentarian would forget his camera during a crucial meeting. And to Friedkin and Kermode "Cathedral, considered a sacred place", you have to be friggin kidding me.

I dived into this documentary to perhaps see what Friedkin could make of the whole exorcism thing but unfortunately rather than getting a rounded presentation I got a didactic attempt to prove a viewpoint. U.S research is based around making a statement and then finding the evidence to support that statement, which in the hands of didactic researchers means discarding anything that may negatively impact on that initial statement. Hence we get things like this documentary and Carol J Clover's Men, Women, and Chainsaws, a body of work based on 200 movies watched over six months and an agenda that simply drips with, and here's that word again, didactic reasoning. End of day I'm not going to give a recommendation on The Devil and Father Amorth, I really can't back a documentary that is boring, but hey catch a screening if you really must. For those Downunder the movie is currently playing on Netflix, so hey in your monthly budget already if a subscriber, otherwise you may find it hard to locate a copy via legally channels. Okay just checking, nope not listed Downunder, and to be honest it's not worth finding an alternative source. Christ compels you to check out Friedkin's better known horror movie, but your choice at the final whistle.
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