Direct sequels decades after the original horror franchise has been put to bed is certainly all the rage right now. In fact, Blumhouse and David Gordon Green even set a very high bar with their recent Halloween sequels. Now, they’ve turned their attention to The Exorcist. In making The Exorcist: Believer, the first of a purported new trilogy, they’re taking aim at another classic series. This time, however, the effectiveness has waned somewhat.
The Exorcist: Believer is fine, but it can’t help but feel like less than it should be. Now, the original is one of the classics of the genre and arguably among the scariest films of all time. So, the movie we have here is set up to fail in a way, but it’s notable how little they do with the premise. Truthfully, this might have been more effective if they’d made it an original exorcism flick, as opposed to attaching itself to the property. The financial reasons make sense, of course. The narrative ones? Well, not so much.
A prologue introduces us to Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom, Jr.), who loses his pregnant wife in a Haitian earthquake 12 years prior. Since then, he’s raised his daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett), who is a good kid, but misses the mother she never knew. One morning, Angela asks Victor if she can go do homework at the home of her friend Katherine (Olivia Marcum), though when he relents, they don’t go to anyone’s house. Instead, they disappear in the woods, hoping to contact Angela’s mother. When they don’t come home, Victor, as well as Katherine’s religious parents, go to the authorities. A search begins, only for the girls to be discovered 30 miles away, three days later.
Angela and Katherine have no memory of what happened to them, believing that they were only gone a few hours. However, something is different, as an evil is lurking within them now. When that evil is unleashed on the families, desperation sinks in When Victor’s nurse neighbor (Ann Dowd) presents him with the possibility of demonic possession, he initially dismisses it. The worse that Angela gets, the more willing he is to consider another tactic, leading him to seek out the only person alive who has witnessed anything like this before. That’s none other Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), who has written a book about her experience with daughter Regan decades before.
Having a cast that includes Leslie Odom Jr., Ann Dowd, and Ellen Burstyn does help things here Youngsters Lidya Jewett and Olivia O’Neill are good, especially at depicting possession, but the veterans just have a presence. Unfortunately, Burstyn is almost entirely wasted. Odom Jr. is the one who fares best, but they’re not given a ton to work with. It’s talented actors elevating the material. Supporting players include E.J. Bonilla, Danny McCarthy, Jennifer Nettles, Okwui Okpokwasili, Raphael Sbarge, and more.
David Gordon Green started off his Halloween trilogy with a bang, before the sequels became more mixed bags, and here he begins more on that level. Directing a script he co-wrote with Danny McBride, Peter Sattler, and Scott Teems, it doesn’t feel like he’s quite as invested in furthering the franchise’s story. The jump scares are effective enough, but for much of the almost two hour running time, things are on the duller side. Interestingly, the most effective sequence, besides the final exorcism, is the girls being examined at the hospital after they’re found. That’s closer to the old Green style, which I welcomed seeing again.
The Exorcist: Believer is far from bad, but it’s much more ordinary than it could have been. We’ve seen these sort of jump scares before, while the ideas at play are a bit scattered. I’m still curious to see what they come up with for the sequel, to be called The Exorcist: Deceiver, but my expectations will be decidedly lower. Your mileage here may vary.