Movie Review : The Devil & Father Amorth (2017)
American director William Friedkin is primarily known to mainstream audiences for his his iconic 1973 movie The Exorcist. It's as great as advertised, but he directed many other memorable films, like The French Connection, Sorcerer, eighties scorcher To Live & Die in L.A and, more recently Killer Joe. But a movie that makes friends call you in panic at 11 pm, claiming a crucifix slightly tilted on the wall, is something special. The transcendent success of The Exorcist apparently lead William Friedkin to want to film the real thing, because he loves freaking out people so damn much. That's how he ended up filming The Devil & Father Amorth.
So, this is a documentary about Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican's exorcist in chief. Or, more precisely, about one of his last cases: a middle-aged woman named Christina, who is allegedly possessed by the devil. She doesn't seem to be unhappy with it. She's well fed, self-aware enough to be well groomed and polite to Friedkin during the interview. The (ninth) exorcisms of Christina is maybe fifteen minutes long and the rest of The Devil & Father Amorth consists of William Friedkin collecting testimonies of earlier exorcism and interviewing neurologists to determine if there's any scientific reality through which Chirstina's exorcism footage can be explained. It's a tiny bit uneventful.
This movie is... well, somewhat of a sham. I can't possibly determine if Christina's faking it on screen, but she does seem animated by a force she can't control and Father Amorth is an important enough man in Catholicism to filter out scam artists. But the problem with The Devil & Father Amorth is William Friedkin himself. An exorcism is supposed to be scary because you don't know if the afflicted suffers from a mental condition or is legitimately possessed by Satan, but Friedkin took upon himself to short circuit the debate for it. He digitally modified Christina's voice, so that she'd sound like a hybrid of a demon and a 56K modem. It looks silly and casts serious doubt on what the unaltered footage sounded like.
Otherwise, there isn't much to The Devil & Father Amorth. It's a nineties-style documentary ominously narrated by Friedkin himself. He also hosts it. There are several amusing shots where he walks into the frame like John Walsh in America's Most Wanted. I almost expected Friedkin to belt: "If YOU have seen this scumbag Satan, call our hotline now and we'll bring him back to hell, where he belongs." The interviews with neurologists are interesting, although they clearly look unimpressed with the footage and unwilling to discuss their spiritual beliefs with the iconic director. I thought these interviews expressed really what the gap between science and religion is about. The neurologists were interested in the "what" and not the "why" of Christina's condition.
The Devil & Father Amorth is barely over an hour long and it could've been half that. It was compared to a bloated DVD extra by other critics before me, which is correct. I'm not sure what motivated William Friedkin to make a movie about it, but he could've lived his real life exorcism experience and left out out of it. If all that allegedly happened in The Devil & Father Amorth is true, it would make for a killer documentary, but the bulk of it is just recollections from very religious people and Friedkin himself, who has everything to gain from trying to make you shit yourself with terror. The Devil & Father Amorth is, unfortunately, somewhat of an embarrassment at the tail end of William Friedkin's legacy.