For many, myself included, ‘The Exorcist’ is an outstanding horror film – possibly the greatest of all time, and a true benchmark for the genre. So any attempt at a modern sequel to this is surely a terrible idea? On the one hand, Jason Blum and his Blumhouse stable of horror movies have produced some of the most enjoyable modern horrors of recent times, including the first ‘Paranormal Activity’, ‘Get Out’, ‘Sinister’ and ‘Insidious’. But on the other hand, I was very sceptical of anyone arrogant enough to try and tackle a legacy sequel as big as this. In fact, the perfect sequel to ‘The Exorcist’ already exists – ‘The Exorcist III’ is one of the most disturbing and chilling films of all time, and a true continuation of the first film’s narrative. So having ‘The Exorcist: Believer’ come up on the 50th anniversary of the original feels more of a cash-in than an inspirational successor.
But maybe my fears were unfounded? As the title suggests, perhaps I should have some faith? Well, that optimism was short lived, as ‘The Exorcist: Believer’ is a terrible film from concept to execution. It manages to completely miss the point of the original film, whilst watering down its premise to the point of parody – and all the while doing so with a movie that relies on loud bang scares that don’t even hit their mark. With the exception of two performances, this film can’t even rely on its cast to save them from damnation. In fact, the only thing ‘The Exorcist: Believer’ really achieves is giving you a timely reminder to watch the original again.
The plot involves two young girls Angela (Lidya Jewett) and Katherine (Olivia O’Neill) who go walking in the woods and bring ‘something’ back with them. When they start to go all Regan, who you gonna call? Oh… Regan’s mum from the original film, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn). Angela’s father Victor (Leslie Odom Jr.) is a non-believer, but when a nurse (Ann Dowd) from the hospital says that she’s heard of someone who has experience with what the girls are going through, it sets up an exorcism finale for the very souls of the young girls who have been possessed.
Any hope that Ellen Burstyn’s inclusion might be a case of the film being genuinely good, is soon unfounded. It’s more of a case that she probably just needed to pay for a new swimming pool or something. And who can blame her? They reportedly offered her a lot of money after initially turning this down, and I can see why. And to be fair, she earns every penny of that fee in ‘The Exorcist: Believer’ because she is far and away the best thing in this movie. Her scenes are painfully short in duration, but just her presence onscreen utterly lifts the early malaise that quickly sets-in. She is brilliant in her role, adding proper gravitas to every word she utters.
Leslie Odom Jr. does what he can in an underwritten role and he leads the film well, all things considered. The supporting cast, and especially the girls Olivia O’Neill and Lidya Jewett, deserved a lot more from the script though. At times, it feels like you are watching deleted scenes from the 1990 spoof film ‘Repossessed’ starring Leslie Nielsen. And I do mean that genuinely – the dialogue and the way the possession scenes are structured and filmed completely lose any impact or resonance with the audience due to its poor conception and execution.
‘The Exorcist: Believer’ sadly comes in as I feared it would – a bland, lifeless legacy ‘sequel’ that’s only concerned about piggybacking off a name to launch a new, unwanted trilogy. How they can squeeze two more films out of this initial set-up I don’t know. It also makes me really mad that a cameo scene that has been thrown-in at the end has been utterly wasted on this film. Any potential that scene had was already ruined before it started thanks to this awful script. Once again it comes down to shoddy writing and studios looking to make a quick cash-in. ‘The Exorcist: Believer’ trades in its 50-year legacy to become a generic cookie-cutter horror, with no nuance or any idea of what a scary movie should actually be.
Cast: Leslie Odom Jr., Ellen Burstyn, Olivia O’Neill, Lidya Jewett, Ann Dowd, Raphael Sbarge, Celeste Oliva Director: David Gordon Green Writer: Peter Sattler, Scott Teems, Danny McBride, David Gordon Green Certificate: 15 Duration: 111 mins Released by: Universal Release date: 6th October 2023
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