Written by: Matt Patti | November 18th, 2020
Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist (Alexandre O. Philippe, 2019) 3 out of 4 stars.
47 years ago, a landmark horror film first hit theaters: on the day after Christmas, December 26, 1973, an odd date for a horror film’s release, The Exorcist was unleashed on the public, frightening many moviegoers who had no idea what they were in store for. Over the years, the film has terrified many more viewers and garnered a reputation not only as a classic but also as one of the best – and scariest – films of all time. Now, nearly half a century later, director William Friedkin sits down and tells all in Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on the Exorcist. The documentary focuses on Friedkin and Friedkin alone, allowing him to discuss and reveal his inspiration for the film, challenges on set, and how he fulfilled his vision in an intriguing, honest interview.
Throughout the entire documentary, Friedkin is real, transparent and open about the film, his decisions and his feelings on how the film turned out. He even admits that many things people see in the film that they believe are deliberately done and/or used for foreshadowing were actually not intentional at all. He also discusses how intricate and detailed some of his decisions in the film are and his own quest for perfection in some areas that caused rifts and conflict. Perhaps most interesting is when Friedkin reveals what he thinks is the biggest flaw in the film and how he compromised on that aspect, leading to his dissatisfaction with it even all these years later. Friedkin’s honesty and openness is refreshing, as he holds nothing back and provides his true, honest opinions without ever belittling anyone or potentially stirring up any drama.
Thanks to this documentary, fans of The Exorcist learn more about the film than the average viewer. There are many small details in The Exorcist that a viewer may miss that are discussed in depth in Leap of Faith. As a fan of the film myself, I found it quite intriguing to be made aware of so many little aspects of the film that passed over my head. Friedkin’s inspirations for certain shots in The Exorcist are unveiled and quite riveting. Whether it be a painting from a famous European artist or earlier films’ cinematography, the doc compares these works of art to the shots in the hit film. Friedkin also discusses his inspiration for other aspects of the film, including sound design, score, casting and more. Friedkin also talks about how he chose what to keep from the original book and what to exclude. The doc serves as a reminder that even a horror film as unique and original as The Exorcist still draws inspiration from somewhere.
The only is what also makes the documentary unique and is its hook: William Friedkin. The fact that the doc only features Friedkin talking for close to two hours becomes a bit repetitive at times. It would be even more intriguing to see the perspectives of others who worked on the film. I’m a huge supporter of docs that approach a topic from all sides and include many different perspectives, so only getting one viewpoint is a bit strange. However, I’ll give Friedkin credit, as he attempts to explain others’ points of view himself by telling anecdotes of arguments and disagreements he’s had. Still, it would be interesting to see at least one or two other important contributors’ views on The Exorcist.
All in all, Leap of Faith is an impressive, deep, captivating documentary that both fans of The Exorcist and people who haven’t seen the film but are interested in filmmaking will enjoy, alike. The viewer is able to learn cool, interesting insider details and fun facts about the film and also learn the filmmaking process that it took to create it. Through Friedkin’s honest, free commentary, we get to learn about his many inspirations, his reasons for doing certain things in the film, his genuine opinions, and ultimately what it was like to create and work on one of the most iconic horror films of all time.