“The Exorcist” is one of the most beloved horror movies of all time. Naturally, sequels will follow with such success. Can “The Exorcist: Believer” turn the page to a fresh start? The story begins when two girls who go missing in the woods. They return three days later with no recollection of anything that happened. But when they start displaying demonic behavior, one of the fathers contact Chris MacNeil to assist them. Can her experience help the families? Or will their souls be lost forever?
It’s nearly an impossible task to outdo a film like “The Exorcist”. The passionate fan base is worldwide and its legacy is everlasting. David Gordon Green recently tackled the new “Halloween” trilogy (which I really enjoyed). It was met with some polarizing reactions, especially the last two. Green takes another gutsy approach here that mostly pays off. I enjoyed that the film carries a similar mystique to the original. Not much is explained about what happens to the girls while they’re away. This leaves the viewer to interpret the hideous events that transpired. As we see the girls deteriorate over the duration of the film, it is heartbreaking to see them suffer. The emotional aspects surrounding the girls and their families were quite effective.
Although certain performances were better than others, a few stood out to me. Leslie Odum Jr. convincingly plays a father that is concerned about his daughter. He’s a bit overprotective due to his wife’s passing. This event has led him to abandon his faith, applying logic and reason to his perception of the world. Seeing his journey throughout the film and how he grows was a nice way to develop his character. The two girls also turn in nice performances, making us feel the dread and evil surrounding them.
The film utilizes effective aspects of the original film but updates many of the special effects. I’ve never been in the crowd that believes the original film is the scariest of all time and that it is a flawless masterpiece. It’s definitely awesome and deserves the classic reputation, but I’m okay with a new approach. I liked the idea of two girls being involved and that the families will have to make some tough choices for their survival. Stakes felt appropriately raised for the story. The film’s cinematography is strong, much like the “Halloween” films. Green chooses some interesting color grading that complements the aesthetic well.
“The Exorcist: Believer” is enjoyable as a whole, but it does have some issues that I could see upsetting fans. The biggest being that the story structure is incredibly similar to the original. The setup, unfolding of events, and conclusion all mirror that of the first film. I believe the story could have done more to distinguish itself as a movie of its own. But it’s tricky because if the film is too different, fans won’t see it as an “Exorcist” film. On the other hand, fans will believe the film can’t stand on its own two legs if it’s too similar. I don’t think “The Exorcist” should have ever become a franchise. The story is unique enough to stand on its own and ends with a note that leaves audiences shocked and terrified. I think Green made an admirable attempt to extend the franchise, but at the same time…did he need to?
Ellen Burstyn returns as Chris MacNeil in the film. She is heavily marketed in the trailers as an important piece of the story. I was so disappointed to find that she has very little screen time. Her inclusion in the film felt forced to get older audiences to see the film. I think fans of the original will be upset with her utilization (and I don’t blame them). I wouldn’t say Burstyn phones the performance in, but it’s clear she isn’t crazy about the material. She deserved better than this material, featuring a cringey line about “The Patriarchy”.
Finally, I think the idea of different faiths coming together to tackle a demon is…interesting. While it’s a fresh element to the story, the wonky execution felt more like an appeal to community/inclusion rather than truly exorcising a demon. Since the emotional stakes of the story were so high at this point, I was rooting for these faiths to come together and win. But I can’t help but feel like the idea was better in thought than in practice.
“The Exorcist: Believer” is garnering some negative flack, some of which I believe is undeserved. While Burstyn’s return is wasted and the story goes in some strange directions, it was creepy and effective. The familial bond at the center of the story is strong, making for a compelling character study in the midst of horrible events. I think it’s a fun movie to see before Halloween and does enough to generate curiosity about the next film. But I believe Green should think about where the story goes next. He doesn’t want too much controversy surrounding his name.