Review: ‘The Exorcist: Believer’

David Gordon Green's Reboot Brings The Scares But Lacks The Fear

It has been exactly 50 years since Friedkin brought possession horror to the forefront with The Exorcist. Since then, multiple sequels and prequels have come to pass and no one has ever really been able to capture that fear that the original instilled in all of us. Director David Gordon Green and Blumhouse have stepped in to try to fill that void. Green, who recently came off of the Blumhouse Halloween trilogy, utilizes the same method of foregoing all canon beyond the original for The Exorcist: Believer. This first installment in a trilogy leans heavy on nostalgia while trying to make sense of religion in the modern world but the thinly veiled plot and lack of character development drags it down. 

After a devastating earthquake in Port Au Prince, Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom Jr.) is forced to choose between saving his wife or the unborn child she carries. Thirteen years later, he and his daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett) live in a peaceful Georgia suburb. While looking for a way to connect with the mother she never knew, Angela and her friend Katherine (Olivia O’Neill) venture into the woods after school one day to perform a ritual. The girls disappear, prompting a frantic search only to reappear 3 days later, barefoot and 30 miles away from where they were last seen with no recollection of what transpired. This kickstarts a series of events that leave Victor questioning his faith and reliving old traumas. 

Starting fairly strong in the first act with a Haitian Vodou ceremony setting the stage for what’s to come followed by jump scares and overall creepiness once the girls disappear and re-emerge. Green seems to know his Friedkin too, tapping into the playbook of the original film with flashes of demonic imagery and distorted faces. He plays on the lore while adding his own twist, bringing the horror of the 1973 film to the modern day and he does that well. That quickly takes a backseat though and the film becomes a story of drama between families and various religions. That doesn’t mean that the horror element completely disappears. It’s still present but feels like background noise compared to the warring factions of faith. 

Once the possession narrative is established, the film shifts away from that and instead becomes focused on the surrounding religious influences. I can see where he was headed with that trying to breathe modern life into an aging franchise but I feel it just distracts from an already flimsy story. From Katherine’s holier-than-thou Christian parents played by Jennifer Nettles & Norbert Leo Butz to the fringe religious neighbors Ann (Ann Dowd) and Stuart (Danny McCarthy). They all just feel like ways to push the plot forward. There’s no substance. Then there’s skeptic Victor, who only deals in absolutes and is the voice of reason. Victor is really the only character that feels fully fleshed out in a story full of one-dimensional people. Then there’s our returning character, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) who just feels shoehorned into the plot as a way to force nostalgia. Almost as if she was an afterthought. Her appearance garnered some ooh’s and aah’s in the screening but there was really no reason for her to be included other than to say “Look, we brought back one of the original characters”. 

Look, I get it, though. Some horror movies aren’t supposed to have deeper meanings. They’re just meant to elevate the heart rates of the people in the seats. This will do that. Just don’t go in expecting something more. Green is attempting to make some bold statements about modern belief systems but doesn’t really establish the threat we’ll be facing moving forward. We really don’t know anything about the entity other than it remembers Chris. I guess we are supposed to just go along with the entity being the one that possessed Regan and that’s it? The film culminates in an exorcism that is so chaotic and random that it just felt rushed and had me audibly saying “huh, I guess that’s it”. 

I didn’t hate this movie, nor did I love it. It’s middle-of-the-road fare that just feels like an average genre horror film made to capitalize on the success of the original. For me, what made the original Exorcist scary was the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of the people on the screen as they battled an ancient evil. The characters felt relatable…it all felt believable. This film just feels like it skips right over that. None of the characters are given enough time to develop and allow us to feel empathy toward them. Don’t get me wrong, It will get butts in seats this month and probably have quite a few fans along the way but for the hardcore horror lovers of this franchise, this one just felt…lacking. Exorcist: Believers will be in theaters this Friday, October 6th.