THE EXORCISM OF ROLAND DOE is part of a documentary series called Shock Docs, which talks more in-depth about major cultural paranormal incidents, such as The Amityville Horror, Ed and Lorraine Warren, and in this newest edition, THE EXORCISM OF ROLAND DOE.
Man, I’m going to be honest. I’m not sure if I’m the best or worst suited critic to review this documentary series. I’m a skeptic (a “Shaneiac” to all those Buzzfeed Unsolved fans out there), but don’t get me wrong. I love creepy history and rooting out interesting, unsolvable occurrences. I both enjoy the story of paranormal accounts and welcome the challenge of suspending my disbelief for some spooky good times. Just as I enjoy other documentaries about the supernatural and mythical creatures such as the “On The Trail Of…” documentary series by Small Town Monsters.
But Small Town Monsters this is not.
THE EXORCISM OF ROLAND DOE is a bit of a mystery itself because it’s nearly an hour-and-a-half of being at a high-alert level 11 at all times, but still comes off as a boring step-by-step account of what happened to this poor kid. Don’t worry. He went on to be a NASA rocket scientist after the whole devil thing.
Most of the documentary is alarmist; every sentence (no matter how mundane) has about three exclamation points at the end. But from the title of “Shock Docs” alone, you can guess which way it’s leaning as the story is told from a “100% this is true/don’t question it” stance. The viewer is constantly bombarded with the wiggle sentences of things like, “I’m not saying it was possession…but-” and “whatever you believe in, something was happening. Something earth-shattering.”
Not only is the writing lazy, but the music and effects are too. In fact, it’s so predictable from the medieval demon pictures, hyperbolic music stings, bad CGI, dramatic reenactments, and questionable authorities on the subject (why was that one guy listed as “Mental Health Counselor” when he talked nothing about mental health and only about demons?) that the whole documentary looked more like a parody documentary that you’d see inserted for a scene into the actual horror movie you were watching.
The best documentaries don’t have to jump out and say, “Boo!” to get your attention. That’s not what a documentary should be. It should be there to inform and yes, maybe tell a story, but it’s there to create a clear, concise representation of the facts and let the viewer decide what they believe. Jamming shaky beliefs down our throats isn’t endearing and it’s not informative.
I was hoping to glean something more from a nearly 90 minute documentary about this case, especially when they started talking about the “hidden diaries” written by the priests. I was hoping to maybe gain some insight on how the priests were feeling, what they were thinking – really getting into their headspace during this trying and troubling time. But what we’re shown are brief snippets that are heavily edited and chopped into the narrative.
There is genuinely an intriguing and fascinating story in this case, whether you believe it or not, and I was really hoping for some of that. I was looking forward to something to sink my teeth in and discover some deeper information about. But it’s more like a $5 virtual haunted house, using every special effect that came in their editing software and screaming at you incessantly at how scary everything is. It’s obnoxious and even more, it’s insulting. Yeah, especially the “cover-up” ending. Big disappointment.
It’s best described in some of the last words of the documentary that they want you to be alarmed and terrified because “this can happen to anyone, any time, anywhere”. This documentary-style needs to ride on that paranoia and yellow journalism to hook you so you’ll keep watching. And, for some, they will be hooked. They’ll eat this up. They’ll clutch their pearls and nod along but, in the end, they won’t have really learned anything.
But that’s what documentaries are for.
If you really want to learn about this case, you should pass on THE EXORCISM OF ROLAND DOE. If you want 90 minutes of religious fear-mongering and boring day-to-day accounts of an exorcism, then…terrific, this is for you.
THE EXORCISM OF ROLAND DOE will be available for streaming on discovery+ on Friday, February 5, 2021.