"The Exorcist: Believer" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
It is no secret that William Friedkin's 1973 classic, "The Exorcist", is one of the best and most influential horror films of all time, opening the door for horror filmmakers to push the envelope for what is allowed to be shown on American screens in the horror genre. Since then, there have been numerous sequels to the original, with most of them being disregarded and it being known they are not up to par as the original. Now fifty years after the original, Universal and Blumhouse tap David Gordon Green to craft a direct sequel, hoping to garner the same success and praise as his 2018 Halloween reboot. However, unsurprisingly, this movie is nearly a complete flop compared to Friedkin's, presenting a soulless and un-scary reboot that simply had no reason to be made.
The film starts fifty years after the events of Regan's exorcism, with her mom, Chris (Ellen Burstyn), being successful after writing her novel detailing the experience of what they went through. Since then, there hasn't been a major demonic possession that has pulled Chris out of the woodworks. That is until she is approached by Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom Jr.), a dad who tells Chris that his daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett) and her friend Katherine (Olivia O'Neill) are experiencing some of the same things that Regan went through all of those years ago.
This forces her to travel to where they live, and experience the demonic possession firsthand. Now it is up to Victor and the parents of Katherine to find a way to exorcise these demons out of these poor little girls before it is way too late. This film does have a good idea, in my opinion. I think if it is directed correctly and they try to be respectful to the image that the original went for, it could be considered a genuinely respected sequel. Well, if you are familiar with Gordon Green's attempts at horror films, it's obvious that those expectations cannot be upheld by this film.
As a viewer who simply loves the art form of cinema and the original film from 1973, I was genuinely excited for this movie. A huge part of me knew this wasn't going to be good at all, but I really wanted to push those thoughts aside and enjoy what this film will do. However, I really can't. Gordon Green makes so many mistakes here and disrespects the original in so many ways that it simply doesn't work for me. The major complaint I have is the use of Chris in this story. Even though she is teased to be a major player in all of the trailers for this film, she is practically only in it for ten minutes, and is left with a very unsatisfying character arc.
On a critical standpoint, this picture simply just doesn't work as a horror movie, especially one that exists in the Exorcist universe. It's simply not scary, relying on cheap gags and unneeded jump scares. Consider the original film; I think there are practically no jump scares whatsoever present in the film. Yet, it is still undeniably terrifying, with Linda Blair simply having the talent to terrify audiences for the last half century. Gordon Green simply can't capture that, and it feels like he is not brave enough to try for that effect. He really played it very safe here, relying on exquisite makeup effects and his piss-poor jumpscares that simply don't work.
In terms of performances, however, I think the cast does everything they can to pretty much save this film. Odom Jr. gives a captivating performance as Victor, and he does a fantastic job of selling the idea that he would do anything to save his daughter to the audience. There is a brief scene before Angela disappears that shows Victor and his daughter interacting with one another, and their two performances really set the tone of the relationship between father and daughter. However, unfortunately, Burstyn, who has decades of work to show how great of an actress she is, just moves through the movements here. She seems unmotivated and unsatisfied with the picture Gordon Green has crafted, which is supported by her statements saying she never wanted to be in this film and is only present because they are making a generous donation to her foundation. Therefore, you can see how dry and unwilling her performance is, which honestly disrespects the character and what Friedkin set up decades ago.
I have a major positive statement and a major complaint about the performances given by the two young actresses here - they are great at what they are doing and there simply isn't enough of them. There are scenes that show them try to rival the performance Blair gave, and they are simply trying their hardest to make the audience believe they have been possessed by unseen, evil presences. This is even more impressive knowing that this is the feature film debut of O'Neill, who simply acts like she is a veteran actress in this film. But, Gordon Green simply doesn't give them enough screen time. It seems like he is more focused on the realities of the parents and those around them than the actual possession going on.
Personally, I don't think the performers did anything wrong here, and it is evident they tried their best to capture the sense of terror in the audience. Much of the blame for how this film turned out can go to the story and the direction, both which seem very amateur and not focused. It is evident Gordon Green and his team simply don't know how to make a film in a franchise of this magnitude, and should have had no place trying.