When The Exorcist was first released in 1973, audiences were left shocked. There were reports of moviegoers fainting, throwing up, experiencing anxiety and having mini heart attacks, whilst others left the theatres before the halfway mark – trembling.
The movie was later banned for home release and received backlash from the Catholic church and understandably so, as William Friedkin’s classic portrayed a demon-possessed 12-year-old girl who swears like a sailor, spins her head around like an owl, projectile vomits green goo, and perhaps the most disturbing of all, masturbates with a crucifix.
Since then, there have been few horror movies that evoked such a response, but that doesn’t stop other directors from trying. The latest to try is David Gordon Green, in his direct sequel The Exorcist: Believer, 50 years after the original film was released.
Green is no stranger to basing his horror films on only the source material, after famously making his Halloween reboot trilogy which also served as a direct sequel to the original 1978 film. With his new role as The Exorcist: Believer director, it is evident that Green has a certain passion for making movies based on cult classics from the 70s. Whether or not he should continue doing so is debatable – we personally aren’t big fans of his Halloween trilogy – but The Exorcist: Believer almost made us a Bible-thumping believer.
The Exorcist: Believer holds large promise. Much like the first film, it follows a 13-year-old Angela (Lidya Jewett) and single father Victor (Leslie Odom Jr.) where Victor doesn’t let Angela borrow her late mother’s scarf, nor go to a friend’s house to do homework. All of which end up being for a good reason because after lying to her father, Angela heads into the woods with her friend Katherine (Olivia O’Neill) to perform a seance and they both go missing.
What follows is a heart-palpitating first hour where the parents go on a search to bring the girls home and when they finally do, are subjected to strange behaviours. Katherine’s Christian dad wins parent of the year, chucking the disappearance to teenage hormones while Victor, who is non-religious, begins shopping for mental asylums to check Angela into. All the while, audiences are clear on one thing: your daughters are possessed!
If you thought one possessed pre-teen was scary, wait until you meet two. Two girls, one possession, and a bucket of popcorn you’d use as a shield whenever Angela and Katherine start being all weird and creepy. The SFX makeup on the girls truly makes them difficult to look at, which makes the jumpscares more effective.
There are some elements in The Exorcist: Believer that connects it to the 1973 film. There’s boxing involved, the girls’ croaking, and the heavy presence of Catholic priests/believers. Green does a clever job of evoking the original film’s feel without it seeming like a copy or remake. The Exorcist: Believer establishes its own set of characters, setting, and themes that worked in their favour… up until Green brought in the big gun – the return of Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), from the original film.
It is the very moment when Chris comes on screen that the movie starts going downhill. We’re unsure if that move was the studio’s doing or out of Green’s own provision, but Chris’ involvement cheapened what was already a pretty strong plot on its own. Burstyn is beautiful and does a great job at her age, but her addition truly felt like weak fan service. The movie could have been done without the throwback and would have been stronger if it stayed on its own path.
Getting to the actual ritual and the exorcism was painful because it involved gathering various religious leaders of different faiths Avengers-style and having them perform their various rites like it’s a riff-off in Pitch Perfect. The Exorcist: Believer also starts to feel stuffy after a certain point with its various religious preaching and the characters’ attempt to convert or make a believer out of Victor. If The Exorcist: Believer was trying to make one aware that exorcisms happen in every religion and culture, then it could’ve done better in doing so without turning the movie’s climax into a Sunday School lesson.
Much of the movie was focused on religious teachings when we think it would’ve served the story better if it centred the main thing we all paid money to see – an exorcism that would make us feel queasy like the first The Exorcist did. It would’ve also been interesting to learn more about the entity that possessed the girls, rather than simply calling it ‘The Devil’ like every other Christian character did in the movie.
Where The Exorcist: Believer did surprise us though, was during its final act. Amongst all the scary things happening during the exorcism itself, Green pulls a plot twist that we didn’t foresee. We’d give credit where credit is due, and the ending was not one that would leave viewers disappointed once the credits roll.
In all, The Exorcist: Believer is a scary movie worth catching on the big screens, and had better writing than other recent horror movies, including The Nun 2, and Insidious: The Red Door, but it still lacked the same level of horror and shock factor that made the 1973 so compelling and scary. Viewers looking to be entertained and scared will not leave disappointed, but if they’re seeking the same thrill as they did 50 years back, it might be best to just rewatch the first film.
The Exorcist: The Believer is now out in cinemas.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Two girls, one possession. The Exorcist: Believer brings double the scare and is full of promise, but lacks the same impact as the original 1973 film.
Story - 5.5/10
Direction - 5/10
Characterisation - 5.5/10
Geek Satisfaction - 6/10