Cinema Review: The Devil and Father Amorth | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, July 16th, 2020  

The Devil and Father Amorth

Studio: The Orchard
Directed by William Friedkin

Apr 19, 2018 Web Exclusive
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William Friedkin has had a long, checkered history in narrative and documentary film. Known for his stunning direction of The French Connection, Killer Joe, and (of course) The Exorcist, the cinema veteran delivers his first film in seven years, retreading the dark subject that became his claim to fame. While the validity of demonic possession has been debated since time immemorial, a consensus is far from being declared. However, there are thousands who do believe in possession, and subsequently in the powers of exorcism (which is practiced in some form in almost every faith), prompting hundreds every year to seek out professional exorcists. This phenomena is put to the test as Father Gabriele Amorth, the chief exorcist in Rome, attempts an exorcism of a woman for the ninth time. While providing incredibly rare insight, The Devil and Father Amorth is an overly-jumbled, overwrought documentary experience whose reach unfortunately exceeds its grasp.

After retreading some minor details from the release and inspiration for The Exorcist with interviews with Friedkin and original author William Peter Blatty, the docu steers quickly into the filmmakers’ pursuits of a real exorcism. Friedkin provides the narration, pretexting his relationship with Amorth prior to attending the exorcism, in tandem with interviews of those who the priest had already exorcised. After the rite begins, the camera rarely cuts away from the subject, holding onto each frame to torturous lengths so that artificiality does not dictate the experience. Footage of the debilitating trial is shown to various psychologists, neuroscientists, priests, and theologians, and the possibilities of what exactly this phenomenon could be is hotly discussed.

Friedkin is the director, co-writer, interviewer, and active participant in the events captured on screen, rendering the whole experience quite personal and low-key. A wonderful lack of pontificating allows more possibilities to be debated, and Friedkin expands the conversation each chance he gets with each interviewee. The camerawork is constantly jostling and always re-correcting focus and shot composition to keep up with the action, but it adds to the chaotic atmosphere and works overall to the film’s asthetic.

However, veteran documentarian Gary Leva’s editing is consistently sloppy; full of seemingly nonsensical cuts, kitschy scene transitions, and a stuttering pace. These fumbled editorial choices are compounded by the various musical excerpts of composer Christopher Rouse, which amount to a slew of hokey B-Movie-esque stingers that detract heavily from the seriousness of the material. I know they want to fill the audience with dread, but the document can speak for itself without a rejected Dark Shadows soundtrack.

This subject has been well-documented, but Friedkin managed to capture a moment in inexplicable human history that should be parsed well into the future. Regardless of personal faith or bias, something isn’t quite right in the lives of the masses, and we are not prepared enough to secure answers as of yet. While these preternatural occurrences are the core interest and backbone for The Devil and Father Amorth and provide scattershot moments of genuine fear and unease, it is ultimately more ostentatious than investigative.

Author rating: 5.5/10

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