For months now, cinephiles have been anxiously anticipating the release of William Friedkin’s film The Devil and Father Amorth, the documentation of a real-life exorcism by the man whose film The Exorcist made the practice (in)famous. Last December, Friedkin wrote an op-ed piece in Vanity Fair detailing some of the things he had seen happen during the exorcism of Rosa, an Italian woman who was undergoing her ninth exorcism with Father Amorth. Skeptic or not, the possibility of a true crime angle to the practice of exorcisms  —  one that explores the science and psychology of the practice, bookended by some shocking footage of the exorcism itself  —  was a really hard thing to pass up.

In a recent interview with Variety after The Devil and Father Amorth‘s Venice premiere, Friedkin opened up a bit more about the exorcism process and the kinds of things he saw occur while he was shooting his film:

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… 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.

Later in the interview, Friedkin describes working with neurologists and psychiatrists to identify some of the potential scientific issues that could lead to these exorcisms, though Friedkin notes that the brain surgeons he spoke with “have never seen anything quite like these symptoms” and would not recommend an operation. Friedkin also explains that psychiatrists will no longer tell a patient who fears they’re possessed by the devil that they’re wrong; instead, they “do whatever psychiatric treatment they think is necessary, including medication. And they bring an exorcist in.” While early reviews of The Devil and Father Amorth have been mixed, the potential is there for a movie that wades deep into some murky waters and lets the audience do some fun heavy lifting.

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