Fantasia Fest Delivered Us a look at Exorcisms
Deliver Us – Libera Nos
Directed by: Federica Di Giacomo
Written by: Federica Di Giacomo
A priest calmly delivers a sermon in a church as several parishioners, claiming to be possessed, scream out in horror while cursing obscenities and throwing objects… No, this isn’t the description of a scene from a new Blumhouse horror demon flick, but actually from a new documentary on Exorcism.
Deliver Us, which was part of this year’s Documentaries from the Edge series at Fantasia Fest, is a jarring look at a very questionable church practice that’s often been depicted in cinema, but very rarely actually captured on film. The doc follows Father Cataldo Migliazzo and a few lost souls who frequently return to the small Italian parish to have their demons vanquished.
Inside the church you see the gritty reality of exorcism, right up close in all its unholy glory… although it’s far from the usual stuff you’ve seen in the movies. There is no levitation or projectile vomiting in this film. Just many moments of extreme uncomfort as deeply troubled folk scream and writhe on the floor, while occasionally talking in raspy sounding voice or mumbling in tongues. It’s a bizarre unfiltered look, but it’s presented very matter of factly… but you leave the film with more questions than actual answers
The film is a little unconventional for a documentary, but only in the sense that the viewer is more of a voyeur than anything else. No questions, or interviews, or even facts are displayed for the audience during the course of the film. It’s a technique I don’t see used often, but it works well here. You’re pretty much just following these guys around as they do what they do day-to-day. Which in this case, is perform daily exorcisms. Again. And again.
You see so many of these familiar faces returning time after time to the point where you’re asking yourself… is this really helping them? Are they getting peace of mind? Do they at least feel better? Are these people really infected from some unknown source… or do they just need proper care from medical professionals?
You occasionally get glimpses into the people’s past, but that’s only when the participants are conversing with other people or each other. You really do get a sense that a lot of these people (if not all) are clearly suffering from something far more apparent than otherworldly phenomena or demons. Whether it’s severe untreated mental illness, drug abuse, past sexual assault, or some other trauma… not every case is really stated, but a lot is heavily implied.
Of course, not every villager in need is taken. Some are refused. Some wait a rather long time before even being seen. Some are even said to not actually have a devil in them. As strange and random as it may seem, the selection process is pretty much up to the priest.
A few of the possessed claim medical means did not help them with their trouble in the past, and they’re only there as a last resort. At one point, we see a troubled teen return a few months after a session, appearing fully saved. The change is very noticeable… but apparently not quite as permanent, in possibly one of the creepiest and unsettling parts of this film.
On the other side of the spectrum are moments of pseudo-levity. In one of the most bizarre scenes depicted on film, we witness exorcism by mobile phone. Yes, the priest phoned in an exorcism. Nothing can quite convey the sheer oddness of a priest, on a phone, beckoning the devil to leave, for a rather long and uncomfortable time, and then wishing the household a Merry Christmas.
The humour is short-lived though, because one can’t help but feel that the true horror in this movie, is not the unseen devil, but that the Church actually still lets this get carried out. I’ve long heard that they had distanced themselves from the practice, but as you learn near the end, that’s actually not the case.
In fact, over the last few years the practice of exorcisms has actually increased… and not just in remote parishes in tiny villages in Italy. There has actually been a rise of this across Europe and even in the United States. Complete with yearly conferences, as depicted in this film, and even call-centres. Yes, call-centres for exorcism. Once again, this is a documentary. Let that sink in.
While I would have loved for this film to examine more of why there’s been a rise of the need of exorcism, this wasn’t really that kind of a film. This film doesn’t demonize the exorcists, nor does it point fingers at the church… it let’s the viewer form their own opinion in the matter. It certainly doesn’t hide the absurd nature of it all, or paint a specific narrative that there are actually demons afoot.
Is this helping or harming? Are the exorcisms giving the people something to believe in and help quell their mind? Or is it just doing more damage? This film doesn’t pose these questions, but you can’t help but ask them.
Again, you really feel there’s clearly other things going on inside their heads, but much like the disturbed town people seeking help, it all really depends on what you believe. All in all it’s a very engaging look at the weirdness of this particular parish, the practice on a whole, along with the questionable solutions that faith sometimes offer those in need.