Exactly 50 years ago, the world was introduced to a cinematic experience that would forever change the horror landscape. The Exorcist didn’t just turn heads (pun intended); it spun them 360 degrees. Fast forward to today, and we have David Gordon Green’s The Exorcist: Believer, a film that tries to channel the terror of its predecessor, but ultimately feels more muddled than a bowl of pea soup.
Our story revolves around Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom Jr.), a single father who’s been raising his daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett) since the tragic death of his wife in a Haitian earthquake. Life takes a dark turn when Angela and her friend Katherine (Olivia Marcum) vanish into the woods, only to return three days later, eerily changed and with no memory of their ordeal. The setup is intriguing. The girls’ mysterious disappearance, the full-blown police search, and the subsequent medical scenes are all effectively executed, even if they do take up a significant chunk of the film.
And there it is. The Exorcist: Believer‘s pacing is its Achilles’ heel. Perhaps because of our slow start, the transition from innocent 13-year-old girls to husks for demonic entities is instantaneous. Unlike the original, where we saw Regan’s gradual descent into possession, Angela and Katherine seem to flip a switch, going from zero to demonic in the blink of an eye. The result? We’re left with two girls with rolling white eyes, sinister gummy grins, and unsettling throaty voices, but very little of their original personalities. It’s a stark contrast to the original, where the audience could feel Regan’s struggle, making her possession all the more heart-wrenching.
Victor’s initial skepticism, which promised an interesting thread for the film to unravel, is abruptly challenged when the neighborhood’s self-appointed Garbage Police (Ann Dowd) makes her entrance. Dowd’s character, armed with tales of demons, not only attempts to sway Victor’s disbelief but also shoehorns in the return of Ellen Burstyn’s Chris MacNeil. This is a legacy sequel, after all.
Burstyn’s return, while meant to be a nostalgic nod to the original The Exorcist, is more missed opportunity than asset. Her appearance is crammed into a brief window, more like a fleeting cameo than a meaningful return. The film doesn’t capitalize on her iconic role, and her connection to Believer’s possessing demon(s) remains frustratingly vague. After a cursory attempt to convince Victor of the dire circumstances, she’s pushed to the sidelines. The film’s approach to these characters, especially Burstyn’s, feels disjointed, leaving one to ponder what could have been, if they’d only better utilized their time.
The Exorcist: Believer seems laser-focused on reaching its exorcismy climax, but the journey there is a chaotic mishmash of scenes that could be rearranged without much impact on the narrative. The random prominence of characters, such as the neighbor (Dowd) suddenly becoming the lead exorcist, or Victor’s Christian buddy (Danny McCarthy) having an out-of-left-field connection to a ritual-crafting spiritualist (Okwui Okpokwasili), only muddies the waters further. The movie tries to spin too many plates, and the central father-daughter story flounders because of it.
When we do arrive at the exorcism, the film’s efforts to innovate are evident, not just in its mix of religious rites and flashy CGI effects, but also in the ambitious twist of dual possessions. However, The Exorcist: Believer can’t quite escape the shadow of the traditional exorcism trope, predominantly relying on the Catholic rite from start to finish while a demon babbles rudely in the background. It’s hard to make determined prayer interesting for more than 5 minutes.
When the film finally comes to its conclusion, viewers are left scratching their heads over the narrative choices, particularly the rash ultimatums thrown in. The demon, central to the chaos, remains an enigma. Who is it? Why target these two girls? And why two instead of one? The film leaves a trail of whys, with answers in short supply.
In the end, The Exorcist: Believer strives to recapture the essence of its iconic predecessor but struggles to find its footing. Its pacing issues, abrupt character transitions, and missed narrative opportunities hold it back from reaching its full potential. While it does deliver some spine-tingling moments by way of jumpscares, the film’s demonic foe raises more questions than answers. For devoted fans of the original, there’s a touch of nostalgia to be found here, but those seeking a fresh and groundbreaking take on exorcism may want to exorcise other options.
[Review] THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER – A Muddled Legacy Sequel
In the end, The Exorcist: Believer strives to recapture the essence of its iconic predecessor but struggles to find its footing. Its pacing issues, abrupt character transitions, and missed narrative opportunities hold it back from reaching its full potential. While it does deliver some spine-tingling moments by way of jumpscares, the film's demonic foe raises more questions than answers. For devoted fans of the original, there's a touch of nostalgia to be found here, but those seeking a fresh and groundbreaking take on exorcism may want to exorcise other options.
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