The Exorcist: Believer – Movie Review

Posted by Eddie Pasa on October 4, 2023 in / No Comments

 

Anything worth doing is worth doing right.”
— Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), A League of Their Own

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, The Exorcist: Believer, Blumhouse Pictures, Universal PicturesUnfortunately, by putting his own spin on The Exorcist – a story that started life as a 1971 novel about the battle between good and evil – director/co-writer David Gordon Green didn’t do it right. It’s not enough to just pit forces against each other, throw in some jump scares and nods to past lore, then call it “done” when it comes to The Exorcist. There must be something else – an undercurrent of the pull of humanity toward the darkness with an opposing undercurrent pulling toward the light. But because Green’s film is too concerned with superficial frights and tone, it doesn’t bother to dive any deeper.

Green and co-writer Peter Sattler (working from a story by Scott Teems, Danny McBride, and Green) up the ante with their re-entry into the world author William Peter Blatty conceived with his original novel. Instead of one girl at the center of a possession story, there are now two innocents – Angela (Lidya Jewett) and Katherine (Olivia Marcum) – whose lives and souls have been forfeited to a demon. Or demons. We don’t quite know, as we get the feeling that Green is grabbing us by the arm and running us through an exhibit, pointing out all the cool things before summarily pushing us outside on our own without bothering to see if we could appreciate what he forced us past.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, The Exorcist: Believer, Blumhouse Pictures, Universal PicturesIt’s not a matter of pacing or editing; it’s more that we’re not given any time to fully feel the dread of the horrifying circumstance into which these two young women have fallen. Similar to Green’s Halloween trilogy, this film tosses the canon set by the 1977 and 1990 follow-ups and carries itself as a direct sequel to William Friedkin’s haunting 1973 nightmare. We know nothing of what’s become of Regan MacNeil or her mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn), nor any of the other surviving characters of the original.

With an entirely new cast of characters at the helm, we’re brought into the spiritual realm as Angela tries to contact her dead mother with Katherine’s help. This scene alone is a metaphor for the entire film: We’re set up brilliantly in a darkening forest which leads to some kind of scary underground structure, the candle is lit, the music swells, aaaaand… cut to Angela’s father Victor (Leslie Odom Jr.) leaving his photography studio because it’s dinner time, which was when he told Angela to be home. However, when he arrives, the garbage cans that nosy neighbor Ann (Ann Dowd) complained about earlier are still outside, and the house is locked and dark.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, The Exorcist: Believer, Blumhouse Pictures, Universal PicturesGreen dangles carrots, personality traits, character histories, and other juicy tidbits before us without fully using them to any great effect. Sure, the film’s full of dark atmosphere and jump scares, but we’re not given anything to help us understand what’s gotten into Angela and Katherine. And we’re not given anything to pull us to any of the characters – only the plight of the innocent, which disparate people rally around to fight. None of them are strong enough or carry enough conviction to go through with a task such as this, not even the Catholic priest enlisted to help. This is a story told entirely from the lay-person point of view, but Green brushes us off and makes the characters move in such a way that it alienates us from them.

Katherine’s parents are so fervent in their supposed righteousness that they forget Victor’s suffering, too. It takes them a moment to get past it, but it colors them for the rest of the film, even if one of them is trying to do right by Victor. As far as Victor himself, Odom. Jr plays him with a patient and analytical skepticism – not exactly a guy who thinks he knows it all, but he’s too far wrapped up in trying to figure this out that he nearly misses the crucial help he gets from an unexpected source. And the other figures in their lives, from Ann to Victor’s boxing instructor Stuart (Danny McCarthy), only serve as sort of a kumbaya squad, called upon to look sincere and raise their hands to Jesus when needed.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, The Exorcist: Believer, Blumhouse Pictures, Universal PicturesIt’s not that we can’t get behind the parents’ struggles to get their kids back; it’s just that we’re not given enough to make us want to get behind them. This film’s timidness to go to any kind of extremes denies us any exposition to more horror than the makeup Jewett and Marcum wear and the jump scares they give us. Not that we need Saw-levels of gore here; we get glimpses in flash-cut edits of what might’ve happened in the forest, but it never comes to anything. Green throws in little nods to the original – ooh, the dogs fighting! The “power of Christ compels you” line! “Help me” being somewhere on a possessed girl’s body! Even the title font is the same! and more – but doesn’t carry along the grueling need to see things through to the end.

Where Friedkin’s original so handily wins over Green’s film is that we were treated to scenes of both the family and the priests in good times and bad, which seated us firmly in their corner. Friedkin let us get to know the gentle, playful Regan and her just-as-playful mother, as well as the two priests who would join forces to fight the demon Pazuzu. All were suffering from some kind of trauma – Regan and Chris have to adjust to life without Regan’s absent father, Father Damien Karras has just lost his mother and is about to lose his faith, and Father Lankester Merrin has foreseen his battle against a demon he’d already faced (and nearly died doing it) – which allowed us more insight into their characters.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, The Exorcist: Believer, Blumhouse Pictures, Universal PicturesInstead, Green speeds us into hasty introductions on the day of the girls’ possession (notwithstanding the prologue – again, a nod to the original beginning in a foreign land), leaving us to be flies on the wall as we discover the barest of what we need to get along with these characters – Angela’s mother died giving birth to her (which becomes more of an agonizing point very late in the game – almost too late), and Katherine bears no such scarring – before throwing us into his vision of demonic possession. Which, to be frank, doesn’t look like much more than newfound psychic abilities and slobbering faces. Sure, it’s enough for us to know that they’re possessed, but The Exorcist: Believer relies too much on us knowing established lore to springboard its own story, which isn’t enough to stand on its own.

Rated R by the MPA for some violent content, disturbing images, language and sexual references. Running time: 121 minutes. Released by Universal Pictures.

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Eddie Pasa

Eddie is a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). Since starting in 2010 at The Rogers Revue, Eddie has written for Reel Film News (now defunct), co-founded DC Filmdom, and writes occasionally for Gunaxin. When not reviewing movies, he's spending time with his wife and children, repeat-viewing favorites on Blu-Ray, working for rebranding agency Mekanic, or playing acoustic shows and DJing across the DC/MD/VA area. Special thanks go to Jenn Carlson, Moira and Ari Pasa, Viki Nova at City Dock Digital in Annapolis, Mike Parsons, Philip Van Der Vossen, and Dean Rogers.

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