The Exorcist is often regarded as one of the most compelling and terrifying horror movies to date. Thus, when I read the tagline – “The Director of The Exorcist witnesses a real exorcism” I knew I had to see this documentary. On top of that, my local Alamo Drafthouse was also going to do a free-for-all conversation after the showing. I practically catapulted into the auditorium. Before the movie, the Program Director asked how many people believed in exorcism and how many did not. Full disclosure – my hand didn’t shoot up and I say that as a point of reference. I do not believe in exorcism and this film did not change that. However, it did give me great insight into the people that do.More on that later. Overall, this was an incredibly underwhelming piece. The documentary essentially opens with filmmaker, William Friedkin, going to Italy to visit Father Gabriele Amorth. A little bit of backstory, Amorth was one of the authorities Friedkin used for the filming of The Exorcist. In a never-done-before move, Friedkin was invited to sit in on an exorcism and was only told the individual would be a local woman named Christina (Yes, I was perturbed that we share the same name). Early on, we are also told that this was the woman’s 9th exorcism. I guess the devil really, really wants her.
There is a lot of build-up to the exorcism itself. Friedkin talks to psychologists, priests, etc. to get multiple insight into whether or not this is real. There is one interesting moment when a group of psychologists respectfully say that, while all cultures share some level of exorcism-like beliefs, it’s really a type of Dissociative Disorder that plays out in a group setting. From that, however, Friedkin immediately tells the audience that the medical community also believes in the existence of demonic possession.
When the real exorcism does take place (finally) it lasts a total of 15 minutes and again, is tremendously underwhelming. A large part of that is because Friedkin claims that the Vatican will only let him film alone with no crew; and apparently on a 90’s camcorder. Christina herself is throwing herself back into the chair and screaming, “I AM SATAN” and “DON’T TOUCH HER” It’s all very dramatic.
Finally, she calms down. When her mother begins to be blessed, she goes right back into screaming. When it all ends, Father Amorth bids Friedkin adieu. Sadly, we are also told that he has passed. Friedkin claims that Christina becomes possessed again, she invites him to visit her in a church, but he doesn’t think to record the whole demonic encounter. I think he forgot that his phone is also a camera. He ends on what is supposed to be an ominous note, as if the devil could be lurking inside anyone. EVEN YOU.
The documentary tries, very hard, to be intelligent. Really, it’s an attempt to be scary for the sake of monetary gain. Even Friedkin openly admits in the film that he’s in it for the green. The film does not broaden our understanding of demonic possession nor is it even particularly scary. The interviews are cobbled and pasted together, never drawing any more insight than “This may totally be real guys!” It’s poorly rendered, amateurish and is incredibly biased despite promising not to be. The only enjoyable moments were, surprisingly, with Father Amorth himself who seemed like a sweet old man who truly believed he is helping people. Although, the movie hints that he has some sins and skeletons in his closet so perhaps that might color my perception if these are ever revealed.
The discussion after was far more compelling. By far the believers outweighed the non-believers so the conversation was a little one-sided. There was even a self-proclaimed “Youth Pastor” who was wearing crocs and looked like hipster Jesus. He claimed that the woman was indeed possessed, and her possession stemmed from “family roots” that had been allowed to take hold. Another woman pressed the issue that it had to have been false and was likely a cry for attention – hence why, she claimed, that Christina begins to act out again when the focus is turned on to her parents. I’m more of the mind of this. I would also point out that (and I could be wrong here) but there’s a moment where Christina slams her head back and digs her hair clip into her scalp by default. I'm sure it hurt. From then on, she turns her head to the side when slamming it back. It's such a conscious decision from someone that supposedly has no control over their body. Regardless, there’s so many different perspectives on what is going on here. Although the movie was poorly done and executed, through that and the discussion I still got insight into why people believe in this. They do so because they also want to believe that if evil exists, then it can be defeated.