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'The Exorcist: Believer' Review

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October 4, 2023
Hunter Friesen
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Urination, the c-word, “help me” etched on skin, spitting blood, demonic voices. These are the trademarks of William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel The Exorcist, adapted to the screen by The French Connection director William Friedkin just two years later. The reader’s worst fears from the pages of the novel were turned into ungodly imagery, many of these moments even more terrifying now than they were fifty years ago.

David Gordon Green’s The Exorcist: Believer has all those same beats, many of them shot-for-shot. But just like how a joke is never as funny the second time, those images seem tamely pedestrian this go around. It’s the curse of the legacy sequel, or “requel,” where the iconic moments of the original material are treated like scripture. They have to be “honored” by being trotted out the exact same way you’ve seen them before as if doing anything different would cause hell on Earth. But things become less iconic the more you see them, especially when they’re cheaply remade without heart and soul, lessening what made the whole thing special, to begin with.

It’s a creatively bankrupt process, but very few franchises that have done so are literally bankrupt. The Jurassic World trilogy may have never come within a mile of the playful virtuosity of Spielberg’s original, but they made just as much money. There’s also the Halloween (also revived by David Gordon Green) and Scream franchises both churning out more dough than they know what to do with. There’s no doubt The Exorcist: Believer will follow suit moneywise, but I seriously question whether anyone will have any connection to this movie even a day after they’ve seen it.

Unsurprisingly, the story opens in a foreign land outside of America, this time being Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom Jr.) and his extremely pregnant wife quickly find themselves caught in the middle of the infamous 2010 earthquake. A fatal injury to the mother means only the unborn baby can survive. Thirteen years later Victor is an overprotective single dad to his daughter Angela. One day he lets his guard down and allows Angela to hang out after school with her friend Katherine. Instead of doing homework like they told their parents, the pair go into the deep dark woods and perform a seance. It’s all done with childlike curiosity, but the results are sinister as the girls stay missing for three days, mysteriously reappearing with no memory and different personalities.

The central mystery of the middle act is all about finding out what happened to the girls and what needs to be done about it. Except it’s not a mystery as we all knew how this story would go before we even sat down, making those middle 40 minutes a tedious bore. Things only get moderately interesting once series original Ellen Burstyn comes back into the picture as Chris MacNeil. She delivers an “I’m just here for the money” performance, which can’t be blamed considering Green and co-writers Peter Sattler, Danny McBride, and Scott Teems can’t find much of any reason for her to be here besides replicating exactly (it’s literally the same demon) what she did a half-century ago.

The child performances from Lidya Jewett and Olivia O'Neill are quite incredible. They have a handle on the range needed, delivering both innocence and perversity. Odom Jr. is a capable lead and Ann Dowd might as well be playing her character from Ari Aster’s Hereditary. The rest of the supporting characters are blandly drawn and forgettable.

For all the scares he tries to conjure up on the screen, the most frightening thing Green does here is take another beloved horror franchise and turn it into a lesser version of itself. I’m not sure where they’re going to go with the two planned sequels. That would be cause for excitement most of the time, but I’ve lost all faith considering the lazy path they took here when total freedom was available.

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