The Exorcist: Believer review | Fails to make our heads spin

exorcist believer review
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David Gordon Green tries to make lightning strike twice with his legacy sequel to a masterpiece. Here’s our The Exorcist: Believer review.

William Friedkin’s The Exorcist is a certified classic. The 1973 film is near-perfect; Father Karras’ crisis of faith provides a juicy foundation for a blood-curdling possession horror story as young Regan (Linda Blair) gets possessed by a particularly malevolent demon.

In The Exorcist: Believer, David Gordon Green’s sequel-of-sorts to Friedkin’s original, that same demon is back – and this time, it’s two-for-the-price-of-one at the possession market.

Victor (Leslie Odom Jr.) is the single father of Angela (Lidya Jewett) and after the tragic death of Angela’s mother, Victor’s grip on Angela has become very tight. After allowing Angela to spend the afternoon with a friend, Katherine (Olivia O’Neill), the two girls vanish without a trace and turn up three days later, with no memory of what happened to them.

It quickly becomes clear that not everything is alright with the children. They’re exhibiting your standard possession behaviours, like snarling, hissing and generally just looking really bloody evil. Guided by the advice of a neighbour (an underused Ann Dowd), Victor seeks the help of Chris MacNeil (a returning Ellen Burstyn), the only one who has come face to face with such an evil.

The Exorcist: Believer is helplessly weighed down heavily by the fact that it’s a carbon copy of David Gordon Green’s 2018 film Halloween. That film was also designed as an algorithm-friendly way to soft-reboot a franchise while also continuing to feed into its legacy. And of course, it brought back Jamie Lee Curtis to give the character of Laurie some form of closure. In Halloween, it worked like a charm, but the two sequels were hit and miss with audiences and critics and the franchise’s rights are currently up in the air.

Here, the appeal of that formula has worn even thinner and the filmmaking in The Exorcist: Believer feels cold and calculated. Who can we bring back for maximum audience engagement? How many nods should we include to the original without seeming like we’re piggybacking off it (although we completely are)?

Perhaps the biggest sin the film commits is that it’s simply not scary. Friedkin’s original put as much effort into the story as it did in the quietly oppressive mood and eventual horror, and the result was a deeply scarring, haunted film (so much so that, in the UK, The Exorcist was unavailable on video for 11 years). The Exorcist: Believer pales in comparison to its predecessor, so much so that it’s almost unfair to speak of them in the same sentence.

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Credit: Universal Pictures

It’s not all bad. There are a lot of interesting ideas in The Exorcist: Believer, but there simply isn’t enough tension or intrigue to keep us interested. While the original film had a firm grasp on religion, Green’s film is frustratingly superficial in that respect. The script, by Green and Peter Sattler, seems to throw every single horror cliche at the wall and hope that at least one thing sticks. Spoiler alert: none of them do.

At least the film has a handsome cast, even if most of them are wasted. Leslie Odom Jr. isn’t awarded much to work with and the two gifted, spirited young actors are caked under standard possession make-up. Burstyn is, as expected, a welcome presence, even if her role has been greatly exaggerated in the film’s marketing. Ann Dowd fares perhaps the best, but like everyone else, her character is frustratingly thin.

It’s not impossible to make a good or a great sequel to The Exorcist. It’s just very hard – and as it stands, no one has managed it yet. The Exorcist: Believer is nowhere near as bad as Exorcist II: The Heretic, but we deserve better in this day and age.

The Exorcist: Believer is in cinemas 6 October.

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