By this point, you wouldn't think there'd be anything new to say about The Exorcist. The 1973 horror classic is one of the most picked-apart and analyzed movies of all time. Nevertheless, there's something enthralling about listening to its director, William Friedkin, discuss it for 104 straight minutes. He's such a compelling storyteller, and his insights are so sharp, that you hang on every word. Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist, now available on the Shudder streaming service, is an excellent cinematic essay on one of the scariest pictures ever made.
Director Alexandre O. Philippe (Memory: The Origins of Alien) knows that the key is to simply let Friedkin talk, so that's what happens. The Oscar-winning filmmaker reveals some of his influences for The Exorcist, including the paintings of Caravaggio and Rene Magritte's “The Empire of Lights.” They helped inspire the visual style. Philippe effectively shows the artwork next to comparable shots from the film.
Other times, Friedkin regales us with riveting behind-the-scenes stories from all phases of production. He explains how he came to replace Stacy Keach with Jason Miller at the last minute, got Mercedes McCambridge to provide Regan's demonic voice, and rejected the work of two different composers who wrote a musical score for The Exorcist. These stories have been told before, including in the filmmaker's outstanding autobiography The Friedkin Connection, yet hearing him verbally tell them is a thrill because he does so with flair.
A couple things are new (or at least were to me). The theme of “ascension” runs throughout The Exorcist, with Friedkin including a lot of shots in which characters walk up stairs to symbolize that. He additionally acknowledges that he thinks the ending of the movie is flawed – not that audiences have ever minded. A creative disagreement occurred with writer William Peter Blatty over whether Father Karras is or is not possessed when he fatally jumps out a window at the end. As a result, the men compromised, leaving something Friedkin feels is inexplicable.
Leap of Faith mixes Friedkin's comments with movie footage in a manner that adds meaningfully to our appreciation and understanding of The Exorcist. Watching the documentary is like having a film school class where you study one of the most significant horror films ever made under the guidance of a master teacher. As is undoubtedly the highest compliment one can pay to a non-fiction film of this nature, it makes you want to watch the classic shocker again right away.
out of four
Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist is unrated, but contains adult language and graphic footage. The running time is 1 hour and 44 minutes.