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The Exorcist: Believer (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 26


Starring Leslie Odom, Jr., Ann Dowd, Jennifer Nettles, Norbert Leo Butz, Lidya Jewett, Olivia Marcum, Ellen Burstyn, Okwui Okpokwasili, Raphael Sbarge, E.J. Bonilla, Antoni Corone, Danny McCarthy, Norah Murphy, Chandu Kanuri, Richard Carr III, Malena Cunningham Anderson, Emily Rachel Gordon, Linda Boston, Nick Benas and Linda Blair.

Screenplay by Peter Sattler and David Gordon Green.

Directed by David Gordon Green.

Distributed by Universal Pictures. 121 minutes. Rated R.

David Gordon Green and Danny McBride have spent the last few years briefly rejuvenating and then quickly continuing to sully the legacy of the popular horror film franchise Halloween. And let’s face it, multiple sequels and reboots had done enough harm to the series’ reputation even before Green and McBride got their hands on the IP, but Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends were just as bad as any of the multiple terrible earlier sequels.

Now they have moved on to take on another legendary horror franchise, one which also had a terrific first film followed by some horrifically bad sequels. (The Exorcist II: The Heretic, anyone?) However, the original 1973 The Exorcist was a revelation at the time. People in the audiences at the time were passing out in the aisles from horror. But the world has changed a lot over the years, and what was shocking in 1973 is not necessarily going to be so extraordinary 50 years later. The new filmmakers are looking to make a trilogy of this new reboot. Let’s hope they do a better job this time around.

From the evidence of The Exorcist: Believer, whether or not that is going to happen is… maybe? But they will have to work harder than this.

The Exorcist: Believer has some scary parts and some interesting philosophical and religious viewpoints, but sitting through it you mostly feel: what’s really the point of this?

Sort of like the Halloween films, they are somewhat trying to deconstruct horror tropes – and I guess that’s a good thing. Also like the Halloween series, The Exorcist: Believer basically completely ignores the existence of all the other movies in the series other than the classic original film. That should only be a good thing.

So why doesn’t it really work?

The story is basically a stand-alone storyline, although for the fans the movie brings back the original star Ellen Burstyn – still radiant and vibrant at 90 years old. Sadly, it seems a bit of a waste to bring Burstyn back – and believe me, when she is on screen, she is phenomenal, the best part of this movie – only to quickly… umm… mostly sideline her.

Instead, Believer tells the story of two young teen southern girls (Lidya Jewett and Olivia Marcum) who disappear for three days, and when they come back, they are acting increasingly odd. Eventually it is decided that during their three lost days, a demon must have possessed them. (It is never exactly explained how a demon can be in two different bodies at once – I’m no expert, is that really a thing?) Of course, two girls mean twice the cursing, twice the scary phenomena, twice the worried parents. It also sets up a “Sophie’s choice” that the demon eventually torments the parents with.

Interestingly, this exorcism is somewhat removed from religion. The Catholic church refuses to cooperate with the exorcism (seeing a PR disaster in the waiting), although one priest (EJ Bonilla) briefly helps out after the others are well into process of the exorcism, to extremely negligible effect.

Instead, the ritual is handled by the parents (a church-going couple [Jennifer Nettles and Norbert Leo Butz] and a faith-challenged dad [Leslie Odom Jr.]), a local preacher, and a once aspiring nun who has been working for decades as a nurse (Ann Dowd).

One of the big problems, I suppose, is that unless you are very into the religious aspects of the thing – and perhaps even if you are a total true believer – an exorcism is a strange and totally inhumane procedure. It’s chaotic, clunky, and brutal, and sadly this filmed approximation of an exorcism makes the movie share those traits.

It’s too bad, because the new film does try exploring some interesting themes – family dynamics, faith (and the lack thereof), guilt, community and missed opportunities. Sadly, the ugly and frenzied climax overshadows what little intrigue the filmmakers have stirred up. And frankly the ending feels unfinished, like Believer is the first act of a three-act play, which for better or worse, it is.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: October 5, 2023.


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