Is Padre Manuel Acuna a legitimate faith healer or a charlatan? In the early moments of the stimulating documentary Exorcisms: The Battle for Young Minds, we witness him cowering above a young girl in the throes of demonic spasms. Moments later, we see him promoting his school for exorcists on a TV gossip show. Journalist Andrew Gold is determined to follow this world-famous Argentine priest in an attempt to decipher the authentic from the fraudulent.
Acuna is a figure of controversy not only among skeptics in the general population, but within the church as well. Many believe he is preying upon vulnerable teens who would likely be better served by mental health professionals. Gold is one of the skeptics, and his conversations with Acuna and his disciples are informed by a healthy dose of suspicion.
Most of the subjects we're introduced to are young and impressionable. One 17-year old girl has been struggling through episodes of self-harm and bulimia. Finding no satisfaction from her counsels with psychiatrists, she hopes an exorcism will provide the one-stop solution she needs to survive her ordeal.
Interviews with members of Acuna's parish, and the subjects he's assisted over the years, portray a man of considerable powers who acts out of the purity of his faith and the goodness of his heart. But the devil is in the details.
Medical experts warn of the dangers of offering false cures. Questions arise regarding the financial viability of Acuna's operation, and cast further dispersions upon his legitimacy. How does the money from donations and sales from the spiritual gift shop get distributed when his staff remains unpaid? The padre also faces accusations of inappropriate contact with a member of his parish.
At first, anxious to sell his unique brand of faith healing, Acuna welcomes Gold's camera and allows him to capture his attempts at performing an exorcism ritual. As time goes on, however, and inconsistencies and nagging question begin to fester, the priest becomes evasive. This strained relationship between filmmaker and subject comes to a boil in a heated exchange that closes the film on an incredibly tense note.