The Exorcist: Believer Is a Pathetic Imitation of a Monumental Horror Classic
Maybe 2018’s Halloween was a fluke?
It’s hard to overstate the importance of The Exorcist. Directed by William Friedkin and released in 1979, it was the first horror film ever nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. Thanks to multiple releases over the decades, it’s brought in $441 million in ticket sales (on a budget of $11 million) and continues to rank among the best films ever made. The Exorcist changed the course of horror movie history and elevated the entire genre. Unfortunately, whoever made The Exorcist: Believer appears to have missed that memo almost entirely.
From Blumhouse Productions and writer-director by David Gordon Green (the same team behind the fun-but-uneven Halloween trilogy), Exorcist: Believer attempts to reboot the franchise for a modern audience. But in the process, the movie strips out everything that made the original so great, leaving behind a pathetic imitation that hopefully won’t lead to another sequel.
The Exorcist: Believer stars Leslie Odom Jr. as a single dad living in Georgia with his daughter Angela (an opening scene reveals the mother perished in an earthquake while pregnant, while the baby survived). One day, Angela and her friend Katherine sneak off into the woods after school and disappear. Three days later, they’re found a few miles away in a barn with no memory of what happened.
After a distressing (and admittedly well-done) scene in which doctors inspect the two young girls’ bodies for any signs of damage or abuse, Angela and Katherine head home. You can probably guess what happens next. Both girls are possessed by an evil spirit, and after trying various solutions, the families come together for a good old-fashioned exorcism.
The exorcism doesn’t start until pretty late into this nearly two-hour-long movie, which is fine. (The Exorcist also takes its time getting to the good stuff.) The problem is that once the exorcism does get going, it’s weirdly boring. The scares seem restrained. The special effects are too reliant on CGI. And the big twist is extremely predictable.
The only unabashedly good part of Exorcist: Believer is Ellen Burstyn, who reprises her role as Chris MacNeil from the original. Burstyn is great here, but she’s great in everything and her time onscreen is extremely limited. Maybe that’s because the filmmakers felt like they needed to tell a new story, not rehash an old one; or maybe MacNeil was only available for a couple of days. Either way, it undercuts what should be her triumphant return. Unlike Jamie Lee Curtis in the new Halloween movies, this feels more like a cash-grab cameo than a genuine attempt to understand what going through this type of trauma could actually do to a person.
The original Exorcist was a movie about faith, and if there’s a similar theme here, it’s unity. It takes all types of Christians (but just Christians, no other religions, mind you) to excise this demon. And it’s only when everyone works together that they stand a chance against evil.
That’s a nice sentiment, and it’s certainly one that may resonate well in 2023 when the world feels more divided than ever. It’s just a shame that anything interesting and entertaining about Exorcist: Believer is buried underneath the corpse of a soulless reboot.