SLAMDANCE 2021 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! Who knew there were so many unauthorized exorcisms being conducted in the world these days? Alisa Yang’s short documentary, Sleeping with the Devil, invites viewers to join her while she discusses the possibility of undergoing a Skype exorcism (the age we live in!), conducted by popular exorcist Pastor Bob Larson.
Yang committed a grievous sin when she, as I imagine many of her millennial peers questioning their existence have, disavowed God and proclaimed her atheism to her devoutly religious mother. Her mother, meanwhile, convinced that her daughter had become possessed by demons, took the teenager to a variety of spiritual healers and exorcists in a desperate bid to salvage her daughter’s immortal soul.
In an effort to appease her mother, Yang made an appointment for a Skype exorcism (I still can’t believe such a thing exists) with Larson, a high-profile televangelist and exorcist. What is remarkable, and a blazing red flag for anyone with half a brain, about Pastor Larson is that almost immediately in his Skype session with Alisa Yang, he asks her if she has seen him on YouTube. Towards the end of the session, the shameless self-promoter even makes a sales pitch for her to purchase some of his books from his website to further her spiritual healing.
“…to appease her mother, Yang made an appointment for a Skype exorcism…”
Part of the problem with Sleeping with the Devil is that it instantly takes a dubious bias towards the cottage industry of modern-day exorcisms. The movie adopts such a strong perspective of disbelief, in fact, that it is tough for the viewer to be impartial and judge for themselves whether Larson is full of it or not. From the outset, we can see from the expression on Yang’s face and the tone in her voice that she is quite sure all of this is a load of crap: she is barely concealing her disdain.
Pastor Larson’s pseudo-psychology involves him going so far as to quasi-diagnose Yang with dissociative identity disorder. Her continually blasé agreements with him further swing the pendulum in the direction of absurdity since he does most of the talking and what he is saying is, to a great degree, religious extremism and hideous victim shaming.
The further along in the film we get, the more disgusted we become, especially when Larson flips the script on Yang (who we learn is a survivor of sexual abuse) and essentially blames her for her spiritual problems, a classic manipulation tactic.
Sleeping with the Devil is a thought-provoking but eye-rolling short documentary that examines a real-time effort at spiritual salvation and, in doing so, makes a strong case for exposing it as the junk that it is.
Sleeping with the Devil screened at the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.
"…thought-provoking but eye-rolling..."