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Director Damon Thomas Discusses Balancing Comedy And Horror In My Best Friend's Exorcism - Exclusive

For years, Damon Thomas has directed TV shows that mixed genres and tones from the gothic romance and horror of "Penny Dreadful" to the quirky humor and dark drama of "Killing Eve." When it came time to pick his first feature, he chose "My Best Friend's Exorcism," a movie that combines comedy and horror while infusing them with a heaping helping of high school drama. It's a project that requires Thomas to include all the unnerving moments and violent beats audiences have come to expect of exorcism movies while mining some of the absurdity of the scenario — and its '80s setting — for humor.

"My Best Friend's Exorcism" is rooted in the friendship between Abby (Elsie Fisher) and Gretchen (Amiah Miller), teen best friends whose close relationship is upended when they venture into a derelict home together and Gretchen emerges... changed. Perplexed by her friend's inexplicable evolution into a mean girl, Abby tries to figure out exactly what happened and eventually comes to the inevitable conclusion that Gretchen's body's been taken over by a demon, a revelation that necessitates the title ritual. For Thomas, who says he's "quite interested in tone," it was "a real opportunity to do a friendship movie that was wrapped up in a demonic possession." In an interview with Looper, Thomas shared his process for balancing the horror of "My Best Friend's Exorcism" with its moments of hilarity.

Remaining truthful to the characters

Thomas noted that while the mix of horror and comedy may not seem obvious, "My Best Friend's Exorcism" works because no matter what happens, the story stays true to the character's personalities and motivations. "I quite like [when] you can have things that are scary and funny and mix those things together, but in a truthful way," Thomas confessed. "The first assistant director, Steve Moore, when we were shooting, he was going, 'I didn't expect it to be like this.' But I'm quite dialed into that tone. It all comes down to, is it truthful to the character?"

Thomas found that question was especially essential for Christopher Lowell's character Christian Lemon, an enthusiastic body builder for Christ whose bigger, stronger older brothers have often dismissed him. However, when Abby seeks him out to perform Gretchen's exorcism, Christian's overzealous delight becomes the source of the climactic scene's comedy, even as the exorcism itself becomes increasingly dark. 

Thomas points to the scene as a case study in combining tones. "When the demon shows himself, Christian Lemon is over the moon," Thomas described. "He's so excited that he's managed to do this, and that is truthful to that character because we've set him up so that you know he is slightly desperate to do an exorcism, and that's why it works. If you set things up properly, then [the audience] accept[s]. And watching it last night [at a screening] with 300 people [was] really interesting to watch how people love those moments with him."

"You have to go at it with confidence," Thomas added. "If you just start telling jokes, being silly, it doesn't add together. Also, it's something that you work on in edit. You dial it up and down to get the right mix."

"My Best Friend's Exorcism" is available on Prime Video.