William Friedkin’s The Exorcist was released in 1973 to immediate worldwide success. Almost fifty years later, it’s still the measuring stick by which all horror movies are judged. Friedkin has stayed active since his landmark movie and his 2017 documentary The Devil and Father Amorth revisits the 1973 classic and provides some insight as to why Friedkin has done little of note since.
The Devil and Father Amorth is ostensibly a documentary about a real-life exorcism that Friedkin was allowed to film. Problems arise almost immediately since the film is shot in the style of an investigative journalism television show. This makes it more reminiscent of an episode of Unsolved Mysteries than Cropsey. It’s easy for the audience to wonder if what they are watching is a mockumentary.
This continues throughout the entire film as there are other production choices that are humorous. The film’s music is a booming score straight out of a scream filled horror movie and is comically out of place. In one scene Friedkin speaks with a doctor about whether the exorcism he has filled has a medical explanation. After a loud violin screech, the screen is filled with a computer-generated image of a brain. Friedkin casually explains the functions of the different parts of brain as scary music blares.
Friedkin himself is a source of much (unintentional) comedy. Since he is the host, he’s obviously on screen often. Along with the visually odd look of the film, Friedkin seems to be playing to the camera. Unfortunately, he speaks in a manner that only has two volumes: combative and melodramatic. There are also many scenes that show him filming the movie with a handheld camera. These moments are especially funny as Friedkin is constantly seen lazily sitting down in a chair with his arm thrown over the back looking at his camera like a millennial staring at Instagram.
When The Devil and Father Amorth is not funny, it’s pretty boring. The exorcism takes up roughly twenty minutes of the film’s screen time. The documentary is barely over one hour long and what you get is a brief history of The Exorcist and the long exorcism scene complete with what sounds like Hollywood sound effects to completely destroy any sense of realism, before eventually getting to a conclusion that is more than just a little coincidental.
The most interesting part of the movie is briefly discussed after the exorcism and before the laughable conclusion. Friedkin questions debating the reality of supernatural possession and instead posits that the victims may in fact be sick and their upbringing has affected how they react. This is a potentially engaging direction to go in, but Friedkin decides to ignore it in place of rambling interviews.
The Devil and Father Amorth is a good idea in theory, but it is poorly executed. Friedkin is the biggest problem since his direction takes away from the documentary and he is a poor interviewer. The film lacks any sort of cohesion and while it would make a great addition as a bonus feature it does not hold up well on its own.
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