WHAT TO SEE: The Devil and Father Amorth
Documenting the Dark Side
Satan is alive and well, and our culture’s fascination with evil has resulted in innumerable cinematic depictions of demonic activity, possession, and rites of exorcism. William Friedkin, director of one of the genre’s iconic films (The Exorcist, released in 1973), undertakes here a documentary featuring a real-life exorcism performed by a real-life exorcist, Father Gabriel Amorth.
Father Amorth, who died in 2016 at the age of 91 shortly after the documentary was filmed, claimed to have expelled tens of thousands of demons during his long ministry as an exorcist for the Diocese of Rome. In this film, he is seen making a ninth attempt to cast a belligerent spirit from an Italian woman, apparently without success.
The exorcism is at the heart of the documentary, preceded by some backgrounding on the making of The Exorcist and on Father Amorth’s work. The manifestations of the demonic in the actual exorcism scenes may or may not disappoint, depending upon one’s expectation. The woman over whom Fr. Amorth prays becomes agitated, growls, and speaks in a purportedly demonic voice that some reviewers suggest has been manipulated in production (Friedkin swears otherwise). Interviews with Fr. Amorth, Bishop Robert Barron, a pair of neurosurgeons, and others provide context, but Friedkin’s B-roll of darkened hallways accompanied by random background screams and horrormovie stringed accompaniment comes off a bit manipulative. His description of a strange encounter with the woman days after the exorcism also suggests he missed out on what might otherwise have been the documentary’s scariest scene because he left his camera behind.
Although it has the feel of a made-for-TV documentary, The Devil and Father Amorth remains interesting for showing an actual exorcism in real time. It may not change anyone’s perspective on the reality of demonic possession, but it might be worthwhile to watch it through one of the online movie streaming services, provided one is not too faint of heart.
GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.