WASHINGTON — William Friedkin returned to Washington last week to talk about his latest project — “The Devil and Father Amorth,” a documentary project that explores real-life exorcisms. In it, Friedkin witnesses and films an exo…
UPDATED with more numbers and analysis. New specialty releases had a fairly weak showing overall this weekend despite featuring work from high-profile filmmakers.
Leading the roster of newcomers reporting numbers Sunday was IFC Films thriller Ghost Sto…
The scariest movie you ever see may also be your last.
Among the many differences between William Friedkin’s newest film and his most famous, one is considerably more visceral than the rest: “The Devil and Father Amorth” probably won’t make anybody faint and/or vomit. The Academy Award–winning director has revisited “The Exorcist” 45 years later with a documentary about an actual priest who performs actual exorcisms, making a kind of companion piece to his horror classic.
“The Exorcist” was ahead of its time in many ways, not all of which were confined to the screen. Reports abounded — some confirmed, some not — of audience members having extreme physical reactions to the film. Nearly half a century later, that tradition continues in fits and starts — someone might even make a documentary about it one day.
The most recent of these is Julia Ducournau’s instantly infamous “Raw,” a cannibalistic horror offering that proved so unsettling to two attendees of the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival that they required medical attention. “An ambulance had to be called to the scene as the film became too much for a couple patrons,” Ryan Werner, a publicist for the film, said in a statement at the time. It was a rare case of such incidents being downplayed rather than exaggerated for effect.
A year earlier, genre maestro Eli Roth (“Cabin Fever,” “Hostel”) received what he called the “best review ever” when one patron fainted during a screening of “The Green Inferno” at the Deauville American Film Festival. His film also concerns cannibalism, which is almost encouraging insofar as it confirms that most of us are not, in fact, cool with that practice. Less than 10 days later, “Goodnight Mommy” director Severin Fiala told IndieWire that “two people fainted” at a screening of his film. “That’s the best compliment we’ve had so far.”
Roth and Fiala aren’t wrong: Incidents like these become part of a film’s legacy, even when they’re apocryphal accounts no one can confirm. The earliest of these is Tod Browning’s legendary “Freaks,” which prompted a lawsuit after one woman claimed that watching the film about a group of sideshow performers resulted in a miscarriage.
That would be the most extreme reaction of all time were it not the fact that one moviegoer in India is said to have literally died while watching “The Conjuring 2” a couple years ago. (Even stranger, his remains went missing upon being transported to the morgue and were never found. How has this not inspired a movie of its own?) Ditto “The Passion of the Christ,” whose crucifixion scene reportedly gave one woman a fatal heart attack. “It was the highest emotional part of the movie,” said a spokeswoman for the Wichita, Kansas TV station that first broke the news. That may be something of an understatement.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist,” which caused four people to faint at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. Von Trier wasn’t the first provocateur to make festival-goers pass out on the Croisette: Seven years before chaos reigned, another Cannes selection caused people to get officially sick: Gaspar Noé’s “Irréversible,” which has always been best-known for a graphic rape scene that occurs early on. At Cannes, where it first premiered, the film “proved so shocking that 250 people walked out, some needing medical attention,” according to the BBC. In addition to its most infamous scene, the film also features a bass-heavy, low-frequency score during its first half-hour that can’t be heard by the human ear but is specifically designed to induce feelings of distress.
“The Exorcist” differs from most others on this list insofar as audience reactions were actually caught on camera following some of the film’s many, many sold-out showings. “I have a friend in there alone, and I don’t want to leave her in there alone,” one woman says. No one loses their lunch, but several people discuss their decision to leave the theater because they were too frightened; one woman can be seeing lying face down on a couch to collect herself, while another woman passes out.
A theater employee discusses the protocol for such incidents: “I’ve never in my life known a movie where people would faint. I mean, it’s hard to make people faint. Well, as soon as they faint, I get out the smelling salts,” he says. All these decades later, that may still be the best approach.
In a chilling new documentary, Oscar-winning director William Friedkin returns to the roots of one of the most successful horror films of all time, his frightening film of William Peter Blatty’s bestseller The Exorcist. That 1973 classic had audi…
Oscar nominee William Friedkin’s 1973 classic The Exorcist grossed nearly $233M stateside, spawned follow ups and imitations and is still a standard-bearer in horror. Now Friedkin is taking a look at real-life exorcisms in the documentary The Devil and…
The Academy-Award winning director also talks about why he doesn’t consider his 1973 classic “The Exorcist” to be a horror film.
William Friedkin already had a Best Director Oscar under his belt when “The Exorcist” came to theaters in 1973, but even he wasn’t quite prepared for what the film would mean for his career. “The Exorcist” was a box office smash, and long before the advent of social media, the film went viral the old-fashioned way — through word of mouth. Today, the audience reactions almost seem like a publicity stunt, but people really did faint and get sick after seeing the movie, lending many to believe the film is cursed. “The Exorcist” was terrifying, and its creepiest aspect was that it drew from real accounts.
Even 45 years later, Friedkin can’t escape the shadow of “The Exorcist,” not that he has a problem with that. When IndieWire joined the legendary director for a day in Georgetown, Washington D.C., Friedkin’s love of the city made famous by his film was more than evident, as he gushed about each filming location in the quaint neighborhood. And the city loves him back. Friedkin’s film is still shown to Georgetown University freshman as part of their undergraduate curriculum, and the infamous “Exorcist” steps were officially recognized as a cultural landmark in 2015 by the city.
On the Georgetown campus, students whipped out their cell phones to capture glimpses of the director, who was surrounded by journalists and cameras. They huddled in packs, staggering around at a close distance. “That’s the guy who made ‘The Exorcist!'” one of them whispered.
Friedkin is as much a legend as his film, which continues to terrify audiences even decades later, as younger generations continue to revere it as one of the greatest horror movies ever made.
But don’t tell Friedkin that. “The Exorcist” might top most horror lists as the exemplar of the genre, but Friedkin doesn’t see the film as a horror movie at all. Instead, it is a film about the power of faith in the face of unimaginable darkness.
“Faith is a mystery,” Friedkin told IndieWire at a lunch celebrating his new documentary, “The Devil and Father Amorth. “Bill [Blatty, author of the book] identified ‘The Exorcist’ as being a work about the mystery of faith. People call it a horror film. Blatty and I never spoke about a horror film. We made a film about the mystery of faith, which was his concept, his idea, his believe system.”
Friedkin’s strong faith and belief in “the teachings of Jesus Christ” have guided him in his post-“Exorcist” career, which included a range of bold genre experiments such as “Sorcerer,” “To Live and Die in L.A.,” and “Cruising.” But just as Friedkin has always come back to “The Exorcist,” including releasing an updated version of the film in 2000, it was inevitable that his career would loop back to the supernatural. This time, it’s with his new documentary, “The Devil and Father Amorth.”
In 2016, while in Italy receiving a prize for his work directing operas, Friedkin found himself with some downtime and requested an audience with the Vatican’s official exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth. Friedkin initially turned his conversations with the priest into an article for Vanity Fair, but he had an idea. He asked if he could witness a real exorcism, assuming the answer would be no. “Nobody gets to see an exorcism,” Friedkin explained. “It’s not a show, it’s a very private matter and I thought he would never allow it.”
To his surprise, Father Amorth not only approved his request, but allowed him to film the exorcism, resulting in “The Devil and Father Amorth.” Friedkin witnessed the exorcism of a 46-year-old woman, a former architect who was receiving her ninth intervention by the priest. The filmmaker said wasn’t sure what to expect; he and Blatty had known of Father Amorth while they were working on “The Exorcist,” and both men had their doubts about the priest, who claimed to have done tens of thousands of exorcisms in his lifetime.
But the experience had an impact on Friedkin. “After I witnessed this exorcism and after I met Father Amorth, I had no doubt that what he was doing was giving of himself and his skills to help people who were in trouble who could not find any other help anywhere.” For Friedkin, his new documentary is a tribute to the priest, who passed away in 2016. “He is an extraordinary man and the film is a tribute both to him and to William Peter Blatty,” Friedkin said.
But fans of “The Exorcist” should be wary — this isn’t Hollywood magic, nor is it designed to operate like a horror movie. “Do not expect ‘The Exorcist,'” Friedkin said. “This is a real documentary with no special effects. ‘The Exorcist’ is a work of fiction by William Peter Blatty, a great story inspired by something that he totally believed occurred and wrote as a work of fiction.”
Still, Friedkin insisted that there are some things that “The Exorcist,” despite Reagan’s theatrical head-spinning and levitation, did get right. “Father Amorth told me that during the course of the exorcism this woman in her altered personality had cited to him some of his actual sins.”
Whether or not you believe that the supernatural forces explored in “The Exorcist” are real, there’s no denying the film’s legacy and power to still shock and provoke audiences. It’s a film Friedkin will never be able to shake, and one that still has the power to creep under the skin, even 45 years later.
45 years after making “The Exorcist,” director William Friedkin flies to Rome to shoot a real one from the frontlines of the war on Satan.
A born raconteur, 81-year-old Hollywood legend William Friedkin still has the itch. While some other men his age have already resigned themselves to the golf course (if not the grave), the director of films like “Sorcerer” and “The Exorcist” can’t help but continue to tell stories. He’s possessed by a spiritual compulsion to spin yarns, inflame imaginations, and reach into the unknown folds of our world. It’s been seven years since his last feature (2011’s gleefully insane “Killer Joe”), but the guy hasn’t exactly been twiddling his thumbs — after all, idle hands are the devil’s playthings.
Friedkin’s latest project is basically what happens when an octogenarian auteur — too seasoned to navigate the studio system, but too sprightly to be silenced — picks up a consumer-grade digital camera and makes an unofficial sequel to their most famous film. No lawyers, no money, no crew. Non-union, and non-fiction. And while “The Devil and Father Amorth” doesn’t literally continue the story of “The Exorcist” (that’s already been done, and done, and kind of done again), this straight-faced but sensationalist documentary has an unholy connection to that horror classic. Revisiting the eternal duel between demonic forces and the old men who try to purge them from innocent people, Friedkin explores (and enshrines) the dark power of his most famous movie, insisting that audiences should be even more scared of it now than they were in 1973. That it was more real than even he recognized at the time. He makes a surprisingly strong case, even if he does it in a very silly way.
“When I made the film ‘The Exorcist,’ I had never seen an exorcism” Friedkin says, talking to the camera as though he’s recording a salacious piece for the local news. “Almost four decades later, I witnessed the one you’re about to see.” Actually, forget the local news — this is more like Geraldo Rivera getting ready to open Al Capone’s vault. Standing on the Georgetown campus where he once shot the fight between Father Lankester Merrin and the evil spirit Pazuzu, Friedkin is as much of a showman as ever.
His co-conspirator for this ego-stroking stunt is Father Gabriele Amorth (pronounced ah-mort), a 91-year-old Italian man whom Friedkin refers to as “Rome’s chief exorcist,” as though it were an official title. Certified or not, Amorth has certainly spent his time in the trenches when it comes to the war on Satan; Friedkin tells us that Italy is home to more than 500,000 exorcisms every year, and Amorth — even in his ’90s — continues to perform many of them himself. Another thing that Friedkin tells us, strolling around the locations he once immortalized on film, is that “The Exorcist” is Amorth’s favorite movie. It supposedly helps people to understand his work.
Religious studies scholar Jeffrey Burton Russell, on the other hand, isn’t so convinced that “The Exorcist” has been helpful. One of the few talking heads who appears during the first half of the documentary, the historian looks into the camera and offers a thought that functions as both a stern rebuke and an ominous warning: “The more you start thinking about this stuff, the more you allow for supernatural evil to come in.” Buckle up!
Permission to film an exorcism had never been granted by the Vatican, but Friedkin must have asked very nicely, because Amorth invites him to Italy for a front-row seat. Arriving in Rome, the director is introduced to a seemingly ordinary middle-aged woman he calls “Cristina,” who has already been the subject of eight previous exorcisms. Much like psychological counseling, one session is seldom enough to “cure” a patient. In the comprehensive (and far more compelling) Vanity Fair article that Friedkin wrote about the events of this film, the director states that Cristina “couldn’t work because of the fits and behavioral changes that came over her, most severely on the Christian holidays, such as Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Easter, and Pentecost.” Was she was just getting fidgety at church, or is it possible that she was possessed by the Great Deceiver? There’s only one way to find out.
The exorcism itself is the least entertaining thing about the movie, even though it eats up a sizable and unbroken chunk of the 68-minute running time. Sitting in a nondescript room that’s filled with friends and relatives, Amorth thumbs his nose at Satan and puts his hands on Cristina’s head. Morbid curiosity soon gives way to mild boredom, even after the woman starts growling in a guttural voice that sure sounds like it was augmented in post-production. She writhes and wails, rosary beads flopping around her neck. There isn’t much to look at — the real spectacle here is the asymmetry of Amorth’s deep-pocketed jowls, a cinematic marvel in their own right (if nothing else, this film does a great service by preserving such a remarkable face).
Eventually, you might start to hope that Friedkin is getting ready to throw a curveball, establishing “The Devil and Father Amorth” as a documentary so that he can catch us off-guard when the shit hits the fan. No such luck. The exorcism comes to an unremarkable end, at which point the film shifts its focus away from the spiritual and more towards the scientific, Friedkin showing his footage to people like Dr. Neil Martin (chief of neurosurgery at the UCLA Medical Center) and asking for their professional opinions.
The resulting testimony is inconclusive, many of the talking heads looking at the legend sitting across from them as though he’s lost the plot. All of them help legitimize Friedkin’s belief that there is more to the world than we now understand, but few of them address the underlying truth of the matter that Jeffrey Burton Russell articulated so well before the action began: Spiritual forces require a certain degree of faith to exert their power. Whether Cristina is actually possessed by the devil or not is irrelevant — all that matters is that she believes that she is. We certainly believe that she believes. Father Amorth brings further credence to the tug-of-war between good and evil, his divine authority serving as a conduit through which all manner of phantasmagoria might enter the real world.
As the film winds down (climaxing with a limp bit of showmanship when the director conveniently doesn’t bring his camera into the scariest scene), it becomes clear that Friedkin plays a similar role for the secular world. Films like his — even very flimsy ones like “The Devil and Father Amorth” — require, create, and sustain a belief in a world beyond the one we can see with our own two eyes. They shape and distort our understanding of what’s real and what’s not. Father Amorth died in 2016, but if “The Exorcist” was his favorite movie — something that he, and Cristina, and presumably also everyone else in that bland white room had seen at some point in their lives — then maybe Russell was right. Maybe thinking about the devil is enough to make him real; maybe a movie that gets under our skin has the power to possess us in its own way. And for those of us who, like Friedkin, don’t believe in Hell, cinema can be our Great Deceiver.
“The Devil and Father Amorth” opens in theaters on Friday, April 20.
What happens when the director of “The Exorcist” shoots an actual exorcism? Let’s find out.
“The Exorcist” director William Friedkin terrified the Venice Film Festival last year with his new documentary, “The Devil and Father Amorth,” and now everyone can see why in the official trailer. 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 about recording the footage. “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.”
“The Devil and Father Amorth” opens in select theaters via The Orchard on April 20. Watch the trailer below.
In today’s film news roundup, Netflix buys Maggie Gyllenhaal’s drama “The Kindergarten Teacher” and production starts on Mads Mikkelsen’s “Polar” and the horror film “irl.” ACQUISITION Netflix has bought North America rights to Maggie Gyllenhaal’s drama “The Kindergarten Teacher” a month after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Sara Colangelo won Sundance’s directing award […]
The Orchard has acquired worldwide rights to William Friedkin’s exorcism documentary “The Devil and Father Amorth” from LD Entertainment. The documentary explores an exorcism performed in 2016 by the Vatican’s Father Gabriele Amorth as he fights to expel Satan from an Italian woman. Produced by Mickey Liddell and Pete Shilaimon, the Orchard plans a theatrical […]
William Friedkin‘s feature documentary The Devil & Father Amorth has been acquired by The Orchard for theatrical release this Spring. The doc that follows an exorcism of an Italian woman by by the Vatican’s Father Gabriele Amorth, was produced by LD Entertainment, specifically by Mickey Liddell and Pete Shilaimon. A worldwide digital release will follow an April 20 theatrical bow.
Friedkin is the filmmaker who brought William Peter Blatty’s bestselling book The Exorcist…
The iconic director of “The Exorcist” returns to the world of demonic possession in the new film “The Devil and Father Amorth.”
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.
“The Devil and Father Amorth” will look at the film in relation to real-life exorcisms.
Some demons take longer to exorcise than others. That would appear to be the case with “The Exorcist” itself, as William Friedkin is set to make a documentary about his classic horror movie more than 40 years after it was first released (and, according to reports, scared some moviegoers out of the theater and into the hospital).
“The Devil and Father Amorth” will look at Friedkin’s film in relation to actual exorcisms, specifically those carried out by Father Gabriele Amorth, AKA the “Dean of Exorcists.” Friedkin was present for one such event, later writing about it for Vanity Fair: “I’ve never stopped being fascinated by the nature of good and evil, and the possibility of demonic possession. The opportunity for me to witness and film an actual exorcism came about, more than four decades after I made ‘The Exorcist,’ completely by accident.”
“I am thrilled to be working again with Billy Friedkin, who is one of the greatest and most prolific filmmakers of our time,” said Mickey Liddell of LD Entertainment. “This documentary shook me to my core and made me wonder — could demonic possession really exist?” Yes, and what role does pea soup really play in all this?
It’s been over 43 years since “The Exorcist” first frightened theatergoers and Oscar voters alike, yet director William Friedkin is still taken by the subject. So much so, that he’s filmed a documentary about a real-life exorcism, entitled “The Devil and Father Amorth.” LD Entertainment announced Friday that it has acquired worldwide rights to the doc…. Read more »