Without ignoring the original, of course
Calling all The Exorcist purists, The Exorcist: Believer might just bring you back to the franchise. It seems that director David Gordon Green thoroughly studied the 1973 work of William Friedkin, and brought along some key aspects of it to 2023.
Warning: minor spoilers ahead.
The film opens more like a rom-com than a horror movie. Two people are in love, on vacation, mingling with the locals and taking photographs of every sight, scene and smell. But then an earthquake tears down roads, trees and buildings—including the one that the woman is in. Fast forward to the husband, Victor (Leslie Odom, Jr.), rushing inside a falling building and finding his pregnant wife under debris. Fast forward to the hospital scene where the doctor tells Victor he must choose: his wife or their child. Fast forward years later, and daughter Angela (Lydia Jewett) is trying to get her dad to let her visit a friend after school.
And then Angela and Katherine (Olivia O’Neill) are walking to the woods, entering a cave and trying to summon Angela’s mother. Angela doesn’t make it home for dinner; Victor and Katherine’s parents try to look for the girls. They find their backpacks and their shoes. The girls show up three days later, in a farm house miles away.
Then shit starts to happen. The girls seem to disintegrate. Angela leaves behind bloody finger nails in the bathtub, and a blood soaked Kathrine starts screaming in the middle of a church service.
The buildup leads its audience to believe that The Exorcist: Believer is just like the rest of them: good versus evil AKA Catholic priests versus the devil. But Victor stopped believing in god when his wife died, and the Church refuses to get involved. Fortunately for everyone, Chris McNeil (Ellen Burstyn and the mother from the original The Exorcist) comes back, armed with research and experience, saying: every culture has their own take on an exorcism. Enter Katherine’s family priest! Enter the wanted-to-be-a-nun-but-became-a-nurse neighbor! Enter the spiritual doctor from Haiti! Enter, of course, the Catholic priest sticking it to the Church.
Now enough about the story, let’s talk about the film. Director David Gordon Green reproduces some welcome throwbacks to the 1970s original, including abrupt sound effects to mark the end of a scene and stitching in strange angles or completely different (read: scary) clips in the middle of important conversations. No strange sexual tension, though.
But while the film had all the good goings of The One That Started It All, it does fall flat on what could have been an amazing link: the character of Chris McNeil. She was the one that had been through it, she was the one that had a best-selling book about it. And yet the film didn’t really explore this side, and Chris felt more like a backseat character than anything else.
And don’t be misled either; The Exorcist: Believer is far less about the actual exorcism than it is a look into humanity. How they can work together for a common goal, how one weak link can change the group's course, and how not everything goes according to plan. The film even goes as far showing some clips after the fact, with each character dealing with the weight of what they had just done. It's about how people of different backgrounds can come together, or crash and burn. It is, as the title suggests, about belief.
“The Exorcist: Believer” is now showing in theaters.
Art Macky Arquilla