This Halloween, prepare yourselves for a film that’s straight out of The X-Files. There’s a strange combination of ghoulish pleasure and horror as we witness a woman screaming in agony in the opening scenes of Liberami. As a wizened old priest touches her forehead, she lets loose a primal howl of pure pain, gnashing her teeth and growling like a feral animal. It’s precisely the sort of scene you’d expect from a new horror film…except Liberami is a documentary following the very real, still ongoing practice of exorcism in the Catholic churches of Italy.
As a skeptic watching the film, it can be incredibly difficult to buy into the belief that these priests are proposing. How is it that these seemingly normal people are compelled to take on demonic guises through a simple, verbal ritual of reciting lines from the Bible and calling the Lord’s name? There’s plenty of doubt in our hearts as we watch characters as diverse as an ex-bulimic to a pierced skinhead enter the church, some willingly, some at the behest of their friends, only to fall to the ground, convulsing and gripped by otherworldly forces, compelling them to turn violent and snarl menacingly.
The skinhead’s friend puts on her makeup and comments: “Don’t you need a certain amount of belief in order to get help from the Church?” To which he replies that the church is the only group that is willing to listen to and help him exorcise these seemingly literal demons, lest he be committed to an asylum or worse. The film never truly concludes with whether these victims have truly been stricken by Satan or not, yet, following the initial fallout and visceral images of pure exhaustion, these same people express relief and positive change after the ritual. If the devil has not truly been cast out, then at least, there is some kind of placebo effect that psychologically at least, makes them feel lighter at heart, and cured.
Ending off with an international conference of Catholic priests gathering to discuss the subject of exorcism, one is assured that for all those who roll their eyes at the effectiveness of exorcism, there still remains plenty of demand as church regulars continue to return day after day for deliverance. Deliciously haunting and fascinating in its exploration of the relevance of this ancient practice even in modern times, Liberami Nos might just convince you that the devil continues to lurk around every corner, and that in our darkest hours, perhaps we could all do with a little spiritual healing.
Deliver Us (Liberami) is in UK cinemas 27th October and on DVD 30th October