Documentary filmmaker Alexandre O. Phillipe is quickly assembling a collection of cinematic essays dissecting horror’s most notable classics. 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene broke down Psycho’s most iconic scene. Phillipe’s follow-up, Memory: The Origins of Alien, examined Alien and the chest-bursting sequence that permanently embedded itself in pop culture. Now comes Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist, another video essay that relies on Friedkin to provide insight on the making of his seminal film.
Whereas Phillipe’s previous documentaries employed a variety of talking heads to provide context and insights, Leap of Faith solely features Friedkin in virtually one long-form interview. Phillipe remains off camera throughout and is rarely heard from on screen. Friedkin proves himself as engaging a storyteller in person as he is behind the lens, relaying the meaning, details, and artistic influences behind The Exorcist from the comfort of his fireside chair. Phillipe incorporates clips from Friedkin’s filmography as well as films that supplement Friedkin’s points.
While slickly produced, Leap of Faith doesn’t offer much that a fan of The Exorcist doesn’t already know. Friedkin recounts in great detail how Jason Miller came to star as Father Karras, or how Mercedes McCambridge prepared for her role as the Demon’s voice. He shares the art that inspired the film’s most iconic shot, and various other threads that savvy cinephiles already know. Although he’s an engaging narrator who manages to retain interest even through the redundant, Friedkin is also prone to patting himself on the back. This doc doesn’t ever come close to touching upon the more controversial elements of The Exorcist either, like actors’ injuries that occurred during production or even the notorious ways in which Friedkin would elicit reactions from his cast.
The most interesting aspect of Leap of Faith, like the title implies, stems from Friedkin’s contemplation of religion in the context of his film. He waxes poetic on the events that led up to the making of The Exorcist, tiptoeing around the concept of divine intervention, and the instincts that spurned his decision-making during production. Perhaps the most exciting revelation of Phillipe’s film is Friedkin’s confession that he doesn’t care for the ending of his own movie, and applies religious arguments as to why. It stretches too far, however, when Friedkin starts drawing comparisons to a Japanese Zen garden.
Here, Phillipe has created a smaller scaled, more intimate essay than previous efforts. It’s well constructed, but Friedkin’s strong presence makes for a narrator that sometimes comes across as unreliable. In the end, Leap of Faith feels more for audiences that favor philosophical and religious insights, or those that enjoy the movie but know nothing about the behind the scenes production. Those looking for details not yet uncovered, or for Friedkin to shed light on the juicier aspects of The Exorcist might find themselves bored. Redundancy aside, Phillipe continues to find unique angles when approaching horror’s most covered and well-known classics.