What happens when the legendary director of “The Exorcist” shoots an actual exorcism? The answer can be found “The Devil and Father Amorth,” a new documentary from William Friedkin that premiered at the Venice Film Festival. The non-fiction feature profiles the late Father Gabriele Amortha as he performs his ninth exorcism on an Italian woman. Friedkin was in the room for the exorcism, and it shook him to his core.
“It was terrifying,” Friedkin told Variety at the Venice Film Festival. “I went from being afraid of what could happen to feeling a great deal of empathy with this woman’s pain and suffering, which is obvious in the film.”
Friedkin was granted access to film the exorcism alone and he used a Sony still camera that shot on high-definition. “I had only that camera running and I was about two feet away from them, probably even closer,” he said.
The subject of the documentary had undergone eight exorcisms before Friedkin came to film, averaging about one a month. The filmmaker consulted with scientists in the U.S. about what he filmed, and they told him they had never seen anything like it. According to Friedkin:
I consulted with neurologists, brain surgeons, some of the best in the United States. The brain surgeons had no idea what her affliction was and none of them would recommend an operation. They believe that everything originates in the brain but — and they say this in the film — they have never seen anything quite like these symptoms….Then the psychiatrists…all described how psychiatry now recognizes demonic possession. It’s called dissociative identity disorder/demonic possession. And if a patient comes in and says they are possessed by a demon or a devil, they don’t tell them that they are not….They do whatever psychiatric treatment they think is necessary, including medication. And they bring an exorcist in.
The chance to see “The Exorcist” director return to the world of demonic possession should make “The Devil and Father Amorth” one of the hottest documentaries of the fall season.