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August 23, 2018

The Devil and Father Amorth

by Franz Patrick


Devil and Father Amorth, The (2017)
★ / ★★★★

Regardless of whether one believes in God, the Devil, demonic possessions and the like, there is no question that William Friedkin’s “The Devil and Father Amorth” is a documentary that lacks an excellent reason to exist. Its opening sequences are telling: the director, who helmed the 1973 horror classic “The Exorcist,” revisits locations of various scenes from that film as if the viewers were interested in sightseeing. One gets the impression he is grasping for straws in order to inspire curiosity in us—which is redundant given that his subject is already interesting. After all, who wouldn’t want to watch an actual exorcism?

The woman named “Cristina” is to be exorcised for the ninth time by Father Amorth, a beloved and respected priest in Rome. The exorcism is nothing like the movies we are all familiar with—which I found to be interesting for about three minutes. For instance, the person to be exorcised manages to retain how they look like, nobody is tied up to the bed, holy water does not penetrate the skin like acid. (Holy water isn’t even used.)

Most amusing, at least from my perspective, is the fact that the room is actually filled with loved ones, observing every second of the exorcism, praying along with the main priest and his assistant. They do not seem bothered by the woman’s paroxysms, trance-like demeanor, and guttural voice. The entire showcase lasts about twenty minutes and I felt every second of it. It is repetitive, shot in a flat manner, and rather boring. Mayhap it is because I have been around an exorcism when I was a child.

The picture gets slightly intriguing after the exorcism as Friedkin turns his camera on physicians and asks what they think of Cristina’s exorcism. Friedkin’s goal is painfully obvious: to get a quote that runs along the lines of science not having all the answers. Of course it doesn’t. But it does not automatically mean that the Devil exists and it has in fact possessed Cristina. The way Friedkin manipulates the interview is quite insidious and it left me with an uneasy feeling. I had to remind myself that he is a better filmmaker than this.

It cannot be denied that “The Devil and Father Amorth” offers access into a subject that is mostly kept secret. It is beneficial to capture an actual exorcism on film, regardless of whether or not one believes in its effectiveness as treatment when it comes to spiritual diseases, because it provides us information of what it is, how it is executed, and what it entails. But the way the documentary is put together is quite amateurish at best and overreaching at its worst. There are stretches here when I felt I was watching propaganda.

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