When The Exorcist first appeared in theaters in 1973, the religious practice was still relatively unknown in popular culture. The success of the terrifying film made exorcism a household term and even launched a whole subgenre of horror fiction. Every subsequent exorcism movie has essentially been a variation on the same elements of The Exorcist. Whether related to the film or not, exorcisms appear to be on the rise, at least from the recent calls for more exorcists made by both the Vatican and senior Irish clergy. Whatever the reason, exorcism has become a hot topic worldwide. It’s no coincidence, then, that original Exorcist director William Friedkin has shot a new film exploring real-world exorcisms which saw the director himself sitting in on a recent expulsion of a demon.
Friedkin attendance at the exorcism was part of the filming for the upcoming documentary The Devil and Father Amorth. The film chronicles the life and work of Father Gabriele Amortha, the Vatican’s former resident exorcist who conducted exorcisms on behalf of the Diocese of Rome until his death in 2016, as he performs his ninth exorcism on a woman in Italy. Friedkin got to witness what would be one of Father Amortha's final exorcisms in person, an event which moved him powerfully.
Following the exorcism, Friedkin told interviewers that it ultimately made him realize how emotionally traumatic and difficult these spiritual ceremonies can be:
It was terrifying, it 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.
Still, despite focusing on the human side of the story for this new film, Friedkin has received significant criticism online for supporting and promoting what some see as a phony phenomenon. Friedkin recently tweeted a defense of his film, claiming that showing interest in the paranormal isn’t necessarily the same as believing in it:
I don’t know anymore than you do. But just because we don’t know about something doesn’t mean it does or doesn’t exist. I just don’t go through life as a skeptic.
The Devil and Father Amorth premieres in the U.S. on April 20th.