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How My Best Friend's Exorcism Director Damon Thomas Addresses Serious Issues In His Horror-Comedy - Exclusive

"My Best Friend's Exorcism" draws both chilling horror and quite a few laughs from the title event — a ritual that becomes necessary when Abby (Elsie Fisher) realizes her best friend Gretchen (Amiah Miller) has been possessed by a demon. But the movie's focus on the lives of two teenage girls means it's also a high school drama about the ups and downs of adolescent girls as they encounter serious issues, including evolving friendships, body image concerns, and sexual assault. Furthermore, the film's '80s setting means the characters' attitudes toward these topics — especially those of the teenagers' parents — are far less open and honest than they are today.

For director Damon Thomas, this offered an opportunity to showcase both how far we've come in our views on topics like sexuality and how far we still have to go. Moreover, the film is able to use the metaphor of demonic possession to examine the cruel and careless ways teenagers often treat one another. In an exclusive conversation with Looper, Thomas dug into what he wanted to convey about these challenging subjects through "My Best Friend's Exorcism."

Examining difficult 'issues through the lens of horror'

Damon Thomas suggested that access to information about hot-button issues was more limited in the time period depicted in "My Best Friend's Exorcism." "We are exposed by the internet to thousands and thousands of opinions and ideas and information. But in the '80s we never had any of that," Thomas observed. "As a child, you only have your parents as a source of cynical views."

As a result, Thomas said, whether it strikes viewers as comic or tragic, the adult characters' response to the possibility that one of their daughters was assaulted is true to the era. Although their reactions are an artifact of the '80s, Thomas noted that we're still reckoning with the same issues all these decades later. "Back then, the way people used to talk about sexuality, it was very not a discussed thing," Damon shared. "It was very interesting that [the parents in the movie] don't want to think about their daughter when [sexual assault] is mentioned. Then the parents go, 'You took drugs?' That's the thing that upset them."

"That is something that's part of that time, an ignorance and a lack of open discussion and people being free enough to talk about themselves," Thomas added. "That tamping down of things was very much part of the '80s in smaller communities that weren't very cosmopolitan. Sexuality and things like that are very complicated issues, and we're still pushing back boundaries now and it's 40 years later."

Thomas also pointed out that the horror of "My Best Friend's Exorcism" offered an especially potent avenue for exploring the challenges of teen friendships. "Teenagers are cruel to each other," Thomas summed up. "People were quite cruel in a way that was really unthinking. [Abby and Gretchen's friend] Margaret [played by Rachel Ogechi Kanu], when she's in bed and Abby goes to see her, she says, 'I was such a b***h. I should never have laughed at her.' She knows, and that's what I quite like about the horror genre. Because Gretchen is possessed, she can be very cruel and manipulate people, but it allows you to look at those issues through the lens of horror."

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