"At the time I made the film The Exorcist, I had never seen an exorcism," notes director William Friedkin at the start of The Devil and Father Amorth, a just-barely feature-length documentary. Over its 70 minutes, we will see Friedkin witness an exorcism, one of the 500,000 that reportedly transpire in Italy each year, and its subject's ninth. (Exorcism, I guess, is like chiropractic care: One visit won't do it.) There will be much writhing and teeth-gnashing and unflappable priestly dignity as the exorcist of the title, the 91-year-old Father Amorth, guides a purportedly possessed woman and her demon through their out with thee! paces.
Rather than the festering bedroom of Friedkin's first go at this material, The Devil and Father Amorth's showdown between the (alleged!) forces of good and evil unfolds in a sort of sacred conference room, brightly lit and packed with family members, who dutifully hold the possessed to her chair. It drags on, the encounter fascinating at first but soon, in the manner of most rituals, repetitive and opaque to those of us outside. At times, it looks like some role-playing therapy inspired by Friedkin's horror classic.
Turns out that having witnessed an exorcism does not seem to be the key factor in whether one can make a good film about an exorcism. Somehow, in the 45 years since The Exorcist, Friedkin has lost the knack. The Devil and Father Amorth, by contrast, plays like a Friedkin-flavored Unsolved Mysteries, or one of those TV specials about the supernatural that William Shatner used to star in, obliged to note the rational explanation but really only invested in the irrational ones.