The Exorcist: Believer

Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5

The Exorcist: Believer
dir David Gordon Green
scr Peter Sattler, David Gordon Green
prd Jason Blum, David Robinson, James G Robinson
with Leslie Odom Jr, Ann Dowd, Lidya Jewett, Olivia O'Neill, Ellen Burstyn, Jennifer Nettles, Norbert Leo Butz, Okwui Okpokwasili, EJ Bonilla, Raphael Sbarge, Tracey Graves, Linda Blair
release US/UK 6.Oct.23
23/US Universal 2h01

odom dowd burstyn
See also:
Exorcist  19723

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jewett and o'neill
After adding a sequel trilogy to Halloween, David Gordon Green takes on an even bigger icon. But this time he misses the opportunity, shifting the premise into grisly nastiness and whizzy effects. Designed as a direct sequel to the 1973 classic, this is merely pointless freak-out horror, technically adept at creating impressive visuals but never coming close to the underlying themes that make the first film so indelible.
After his wife (Graves) dies in childbirth during an earthquake in Haiti, Victor (Odom) raises his daughter Angela (Jewett) with a protective eye. Then as a teen she heads into the woods with her friend Katherine (O'Neill), staging a seance to contact her mother. Three days later they are found with odd wounds and unnerving behavioural issues. With Katherine's parents (Nettles and Butz) and nurse Ann (Dowd), Victor consults a local priest (Bonilla), preacher (Sbarge) and animist sage (Okpokwasili). He also tracks down Chris (Burstyn), whose book about her possessed daughter (Blair) echoes this situation.
While there are plenty of intriguing themes here, the script simplistically dodges them in lieu of more superficial frights. The idea that human history is full of stories of possession from a range of cultures and religious traditions is only barely touched on, while the behaviour of the girls becomes increasingly bonkers, with each manic episode moving further from dark creepiness into wacky scary-movie territory. And the cool-looking effects get flashier as the script leaves the robust issues behind.

Odom helps to ground the film in the real world with an earnest, earthy performance that skilfully reflects Victor's mind-spinning reactions to these unthinkable events. Jewett and O'Neill are also naturalistic in the early scenes, before they are consumed by expertly grotty makeup and writhing demonic sneers. Dowd offers her now trademarked true-believer intensity. And of course Burstyn has terrific presence returning to play Chris half a century later, although the script inexplicably sidelines her.

Opening with huge promise, Green uses insinuation and spectacle to establish the tone, hinting at deeper ideas. Then as the situation unfolds, the underlying themes become mere window dressing. The film strains to frighten the audience, managing a few good jolts but never cranking up that sense of insidious terror this premise so badly needs. Fans of adeptly crafted stylised grisliness may enjoy it, but anyone looking for a return to the original film's riveting sense of fear will be badly disappointed. To be fair, that's an impossibly high bar.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 3.Oct.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall