The Devil and Father Amorth
Clocking in at barely over an hour and not quite meriting that brief runtime, William Friedkin’s documentary The Devil and Father Amorth probably should have been saved for a bonus feature on the inevitable 45th anniversary Blu-ray of The Exorcist later this year.
Perhaps the profile of Vatican priest Father Gabriele Amorth and his ninth exorcism of a troubled Italian woman named Cristina will land there anyway, but as a theatrical release it’s a bit of a head-scratcher.
Retracing the spiritual curiosity that led the director and writer William Peter Blatty to make their landmark horror film, Friedkin sincerely yet awkwardly directly addresses the audience like he’s auditioning to host the Unsolved Mysteries reboot — though he’ll need to do something about his nervous hand gestures before taking on that gig.
The personal investment and Amorth’s credentials established, the film launches into what will either be a captivating or patience-testing stretch as Friedkin is allowed to document Cristina writhe in a chair for 20some minutes with mysteriously enhanced vocals (satanic autotune?) suggesting demonic possession.
For viewers more bored than energized by the exorcism, good news awaits: The Devil and Father Amorth hits its stride in the subsequent chapter when Friedkin consults medical professionals and gets their takes on the footage, incorporating more diverse perspectives and insight into what may have happened in the Italian room from sociological and psychological viewpoints.
Even within these promising segments, the director cheapens his investigation by dolling up establishing shots of university buildings — and other imagery that need no augmentation — with “spooky” violin music, part of the film’s overall low production value and suspect technical decisions.
Beyond transportation fees, The Devil and Father Amorth didn’t cost much to make — a theory that becomes painfully clear when one sees footage from a second camera source of the director holding a DSLR. But while the cinematography serves the film’s first-person journalistic purpose, the inconsistent audio proves frustrating, especially an interview with Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron that sounds like it was recorded with tin cans.
The sour icing on these misfires, however, is a bizarre coda in which Friedkin haphazardly recreates one last encounter with Cristina from memory. Intended as a chilling climax, the memory barely packs a punch, fittingly keeping it of a piece with the film’s preceding mediocrity.
Grade: C. Not rated, but with adult themes and disturbing images. Playing April 24 at 7 p.m. at Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: The Orchard)