Review by Shauna McCrudden
Anyone going into this brand-new Exorcist film will no doubt have high expectations. The original Exorcist, which was released in 1973, is a classic, not only in the horror genre, but also in the true sense of the word. It was the first horror film to be nominated for 10 Academy Awards including for Best Picture, and took home two gongs on the night. It made a household name of child star Linda Blair along with being a huge box office success. It started the trend of exorcism films, of which there are too many to count now, and was the poster child for ‘the controversial movie’.
It should be easy to make a sequel to this. But the Exorcist film franchise has been fraught with lacklustre scripts and diminishing returns. You might not even know there’s already been four sequels and a TV series to boot! But now director David Gordon Green, responsible for bringing back the Halloween series of films to great success, has tried his hand at The Exorcist.
Ignoring all previous sequels, The Exorcist: Believer is set in 2023, 50 years after the original event took place. It follows Victor Fielding, whose 13-year-old daughter Angela and her friend Katherine go missing one night. They show up three days later with no memory of where they were, or knowledge of time having passed. They then start to show signs of demonic possession, forcing their parents to start to believe the unimaginable.
On paper, this sounds like the start of a promising exorcism film. But in action, this is the least exciting of any exorcism film in recent years. And that’s not a great thing for a film series which is supposed to be the daddy of all. And it’s certainly not great news for Universal who just spent $400 million on the rights to the franchise! They need this to be a success, but the movie doesn’t even know what it wants to be.
It felt as if a producer watched the original, saw that it had a possessed little girl in it, and decided that the sequel should have TWO possessed little girls in it! There, that’ll do. But no, it won’t do. It’s impossible not to compare this to the original as Believer goes out of its way to replicate everything from it. They even brought back Ellen Burstyn, who played Chris MacNeil, the mother of possessed Regan in The Exorcist, for what amounts to a cameo role before she’s abruptly written out. The original was about what the title suggests, the Exorcist. It wasn’t about how scary Regan could be, and I’m not sure this movie quite grasps what made the original so frightening. It was an examination of faith and of parenting. The possession was a symbolism of puberty. This movie tries to do all of those things, but in a jumbled fashion. They bring different faiths into the equation, Catholicism, Haitian Hoodoo, a vague Christian denomination, along with spiritualism, and all these different faiths are used in the exorcism. But why? The movie itself doesn’t know. Is the demon supposed to be afraid of all religions and practices? Sure, why not?
There are plenty of jump scares here, but none that are memorable. There’s some neck breaking, vomit, and little girls being creepy as is expected. So, anyone simply looking for that before Halloween will probably be happy. But there are incredibly strange ‘moral’ messages for the main characters to learn which left me utterly confused as to what the movie was trying to say to the audience. You’ll get some jumps, but absolutely none of it lingers.