44 years after directing the seminal 1973 horror film The Exorcist, film-maker William Friedkin has come nearly full circle with a new documentary based on real-life exorcisms performed by a Vatican priest. “The Devil and Father Amorth” was released last week, premiering at the Venice Film Festival, and Friedkin discussed the experience of filming a ‘real-life’ exorcism in a recent interview:
Tell me about the shoot.
I had to shoot it alone, obviously. The conditions were that I come along with no crew and no lights. So I used a Sony still camera that shot high-definition video. I had only that camera running and I was about two feet away from them, probably even closer.
What was the experience of witnessing a real exorcism so close up like?
It was terrifying. 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.
As I understand it, Amorth had been doing exorcisms on her for some time.
The one that I filmed was her ninth, and she was having one a month.
You have subsequently consulted with scientists in the U.S. about what you witnessed and filmed. What did they say?
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.
You can listen to audio from the exorcism, along with some pictures, in this video (autoplay warning), and read more about the experience in this Vanity Fair article from December 2016, written by Friedkin himself.
(Readers of my article “Her Sweet Murmur“, on the sounds heard during paranormal experiences, might especially be interested to hear Friedkin’s description of how “A low buzzing sound began, like a swarm of bees, as the others in the room prayed quietly.”)