Inspired by a real account of a young boy’s possession and exorcism in 1949, writer William Blatty wrote a best-selling novel about a little girl and her encounter with demonic possession called The Exorcist. It would become a 1973 Oscar-nominated film of the same name and was number one on my list of movies that scared me to death as a kid. Being raised in a Catholic household, I was deeply aware of the film’s message and understood why it struck fear in the hearts of believers worldwide. Considered culturally significant by the Library of Congress, and garnering the respect of critics and fans alike, it easy to see why the film is still frequently discussed today.
We’ve heard about the stories and rumors of a curse (that history is discussed in Jay Cheel’s Cursed Films mini-series on Shudder) and what then-child actor Linda Blair had to endure on set. In the documentary Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist, director Alexandre O. Philippe gives us an insider’s look at the process of making the film that brought the horror genre well-deserved attention from the person behind the camera himself.
Sitting down for an intimate discussion with William Friedkin – the award-winning director of several critically-acclaimed works including The French Connection, Cruising, and Bug – we learn of his various influences from art to music to films by Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles. There’s a lot to cover and the crisp editing by David Lawrence keeps the conversation flowing, allowing Friedkin to describe his organized thoughts of sight and sound eloquently. As someone who was widely criticized for his treatment of his actors, he acknowledges his old school methods would not go over well today. His discussions of good and evil, faith, whether The Exorcist is a horror film, and the film’s, technical intricacies keep you hanging on his every word throughout the documentary’s almost 2 hours runtime.
Alexandre O. Philippe is known for his deep dives into film history with his documentaries 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene, Doc of the Dead, and The People vs. George Lucas. Those works gave us many opinions about culturally significant film moments, but with Leap of Faith, Philippe gives us a one on one conversation that feels like Friedkin is talking directly to us. Peppered with scenes from The Exorcist and clips from Friedkin’s favorite films, paintings, and music, we get a peek into what he was thinking during each major decision. While there may be some rehashing of information, there is an overall intimate, in-depth reflection on the iconic film you can’t find anywhere else.
Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist is available to stream May 28 to June 24