The Exorcism (2024): Is the Movie Based on True Story?

Helmed by Joshua John Miller, ‘The Exorcism’ follows an aging actor as he plays the role of an exorcist priest in a horror production and begins to notice a sinister presence taking hold of his life. Anthony Miller is an actor with a troubled past who, along with his estranged daughter, Lee, begins working on a horror film. The movie in question requires him to perform the role of a priest carrying out an exorcism, and the film’s crew seems on edge as they begin invoking demonic entities for the sake of authenticity and drama. Their work is thrown into disarray when malevolent forces begin to terrorize the film sets, seemingly possessing Anthony. The unique premise of the film sparks curiosity regarding the inspiration behind the horror movie and the reason for its subject matter seeming familiar.

The Exorcism is Inspired by Joshua John Miller’s Father and The Exorcist

The plot of ‘The Exorcism’ seems to clearly have several connections with the horror classic, ‘The Exorcist,’ with the meta dialogue suggesting that its characters are attempting a remake of the original. The filmmaker in the movie even refers to sinister incidents taking place on the sets of famous horror productions. The connection of ‘The Exorcism’ with the ‘The Exorcist’ is bridged through co-writer and director Joshua John Miller himself, whose father, Jason Miller, depicted Father Karras in the classic. As a child, Joshua Miller frequently heard stories told by his father about his time on the set of ‘The Exorcist,’ and the supposed eerie occurrences that took place while it was being filmed.

While the 1973 film was itself based on a novel written about a real exorcism performed by Father William Bowdern on a 14-year-old boy in Cottage City, Maryland, the incidents surrounding its production took on a spooky life of their own. The problems started in pre-production when an unexplained fire broke out in the MacNeil home, causing immense damage to the house except for Regan’s bedroom. After the set was rebuilt in six weeks, just as the shooting began, actor Max von Sydow (Father Lankester Merrin) learned that his brother had passed away and dropped the project. Actor Jack MacGowan, who is killed by the demon in the movie, actually died shortly after filming was completed. Similar occurrences can be seen depicted in ‘The Exorcism.’

The Millers’ Battle With Their Inner Demons

It is no coincidence that the protagonist of ‘The Exorcism’ shares the director’s family name. Anthony Miller is loosely based on Jason Miller, with both being actors who play a priest in an exorcism movie. The similarities run deeper, with the real actor’s struggle with addiction also reflected in Anthony. “I think it is fair to say that a lot of it was inspired by my dad, who was an actor and was in ‘The Exorcist’ and struggled with addiction, so there’s a lot of inspiration there for sure,” replied Joshua Miller when asked about the story’s origins. “And also, honestly, from some of my own challenges with those same things: Being in the movies, my own addictions, my own proverbial demons.”

The filmmaker also said that many of his father’s demons influenced his death from a heart attack at the age of 62 in 2001. Seen from this meta lens, it becomes clear that the character of Anthony Miller is made in Jason Miller’s image, serving as the primary and deeply personal source of inspiration. The possession of Anthony was something that the director deliberately wrote into the film, feeling the need to switch up the general gender association with demonic possessions.

Subverting Expectations Regarding Religion and Sexuality

A major motivation for the director in crafting the film’s subplots was the depiction of the church in horror movies and the lack of queer people featured in them. In his personal experiences, Joshua Miller has felt the beauty and grace of religion and its weaponization. He is of the belief that the Catholic Church has a bullet-proof reputation when it comes to the exorcism sub-genre and sought to subvert such expectations. A part of this was achieved through Anthony’s past of sexual abuse and his subsequent loss of faith, which seems to open him up to demonic influence.

At the same time, Joshua Miller also noticed the distinct lack of queer people in the subgenre. Thus, he introduced the character of Lee as a lesbian teen and openly queer actor David Hyde Pierce was roped in to play the role of Father Conor. Lee becomes the vehicle for the commentary on sexuality and the flaws of the Catholic Church. She notes how some of their prayers are monarchal and patriarchal, while her father’s faith wanes because of his own past of being sexually abused by a priest. ‘The Exorcism’ emerges as an incredibly personal film that reflects filmmaker Joshua John Miller’s ‘The Exorcist’ influences, past demons, and present moral beliefs.

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