5 years ago, I had a dream. There have been countless films dealing with the concept of exorcisms, in which a devout and noble priest will be summoned to defend the honor of a young girl and purge the devil himself from within her system, thus saving her soul and claiming a small victory in the eternal war of good versus evil. The particulars may change from film to film, but the core elements are almost always the same. Up until this point, it hadn’t been a subgenre I had any interest in tackling myself.
But then I had an epiphany. What if, rather than the pious and virtuous man of the cloth usually depicted in such stories, the priest was a vain and shallow con artist, who was primarily concerned with documenting his exorcisms and posting them online to promote his own personal brand. To this man, the actual success or failure of saving a victim’s soul would be secondary to getting the whole experience on film to be released to the masses as a piece of entertainment. Considering how many exorcist films had already made use of the found footage approach (The Devil Inside and The Last Exorcism come to mind), it surprised me that I’d never seen the genre subverted this way before.
This is what inspired me to write American Exorcist, which tells the story of Father Benjamin O’Reilly, a holy man with dubious credentials and a decidedly non-pious attitude, who arrives at a hotel after Kimberly, the terrified assistant manager, requests that he intervene to save a possessed woman staying in one of her rooms. Upon assessing the victim’s very real and very scary state, O’Reilly calls in “the team”, which consists of a mismanaged film crew who arrives to document the proceedings, and it quickly becomes clear to Kimberly that the group is far more interested in making the experience cinematic than they are with saving her guest. At this point, as they say, hijinks ensue.
Though I wrote the script back in 2015, originally with a completely different cast attached, various scheduling and budgetary concerns set it on the back burner for some time. In the fall of 2019, the time was right to bring it back to life. In addition to helping me produce the film, my regular collaborator Jaron Wallace pulled double-duty on set as our DP and playing the role of lead cameraman Terry. We found the perfect hotel in St. Augustine, the La Quinta Inn & Suites, which was invaluable in helping to facilitate our two-day shooting schedule. We assembled a top-notch crew and got to work bringing this story to life.
One of my greatest joys working on this film was the chance to direct a truly outstanding ensemble cast. Leading the charge was Jas Abramowitz, who gives a commanding and boisterous performance as the titular exorcist. Kate McManus almost singlehandedly lends the film its horror elements in a mostly physical turn as the possessed victim (assisted with some excellent makeup effects courtesy of Hillary Warren and Brad Shier). Kat McLeod brings humanity and vulnerability as the increasingly skeptical Kimberly, while Jaron shares a dynamic chemistry with his on-screen film team (played by Kelly Kates and Jonathon O’Leary), who together provide many of the film’s laughs.
Though it runs just over 8 minutes in length, this film has been a labor of love for almost half a decade. After an extended post-production process, American Exorcist had its first public screening at last summer’s LOL Jax Film Festival, where it ultimately won 13 awards including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Ensemble Cast, Best Makeup, and more. I am incredibly grateful to the cast and crew for the chance to work with them on a project I’ve become so proud of, and I am also grateful to Rose Sanchez and Flocally for featuring the film and giving us the opportunity to have it seen by an even wider audience. Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy the film!
Dare to inspire.