‘The Exorcist: Believer’ Review: The Power Of Christ Compels You To Stop Making These Movies

The Exorcist: Believer

50 years ago, William Friedkin terrified the world with The Exorcist, a film regarded as the scariest movie ever made. With as iconic as the film is and how we’re now in the era of the requel, it only makes sense that we’re getting a new vision of a film that traumatized generations. Sadly, David Gordon Green’s The Exorcist: Believer fundamentally misunderstands its source material and has nothing of any real substance to say. It really just wants to appease a specific kind of horror fan instead of having anything resembling a point of view.

The film begins in Haiti where Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom, Jr.) and his pregnant wife Sorenne are two photographers capturing life on the island. Of course, a tragedy strikes, and Victor is left to make a terrible choice: save his wife or save his daughter. Flash forward 13 years later and Vincent and his daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett) are living a relatively happy, yet sheltered, life. One day, Angela disappears into the woods with her new friend Katherine (Olivia O’Neill) after they attempt to contact Angela’s mother. Three days later, they reappear, but something is very wrong.

As seen in The Exorcist, the girls are thought to be traumatized and mentally ill, until their families decide to try religious intervention to exorcise whatever lurks inside their daughters. This is where the film really loses its footing. It goes from an interesting look at true crime and how missing girls are treated to a dull attempt to appease horror fans with unnecessary cameos. There’s no sense of perspective once Ellen Burstyn appears on screen, which causes Green’s film to feel shallow and deeply unnecessary. 

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If this wasn’t an Exorcist movie, it would have a better chance. Instead, Green and co-writer Peter Sattler shoehorn in too much fan service that convolutes an already complicated script that has too much and not enough to say. This is ultimately the issue with The Exorcist: Believer. It’s trying to be too many things at once. It wants to pay homage while also making something new while also trying to rectify issues with religious horror without actually accomplishing any of those things. It crumbles under the pressure of its predecessor, never able to give itself an actual identity outside of Friedkin’s film.

In fact, it’s incredibly sanitized and never even grazes the transgressive nature of the original film. Demonic lines uttered by the girls are almost entirely lifted from The Exorcist with barely any work done to make the two uniquely terrifying. The Exorcist: Believer both exploits the young girls and hides them, never sure of how far it wants to go in showing their pain. Sure, we can watch the girls go through invasive medical exams and linger on images of exposed thighs covered in self-inflicted wounds as silent tears roll down the girls’ cheeks. But god forbid we have the girls yell more obscenities that would make your pastor blush. There’s nothing that shocking about the film other than just how bland it is.

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Granted, Lidya Jewett and Olivia O’Neill really dedicate themselves to their performances despite a disappointing lack of screen time. They are truly terrifying as they throw their bodies across rooms and slam their bodies against glass. Given a better script, they would have truly shined, but regardless, their talent is still on display. Perhaps there’s more to their story in the next film. But as it stands, Green and Sattler give us nothing about their relationship, why they decided to hold the seance, what may have happened to them, nothing. There are no stakes other than they’re possessed. It’s another annoying example of using young girls’ bodies to shock and create a spectacle with absolutely nothing else to say.

What’s even more infuriating is that there are glimmers of a fascinating story underneath it all. The script does try to grapple with typical Catholic heroes and looks at different types of Christianity, including Haitian spirituality, when it comes to exorcism. It’s not solely white male saviors, so the film gets a few points in trying to expand what belief means. But that doesn’t save the film from having no real idea of what it wants to say about religion. It just feels like it’s checking boxes to appease audiences rather than really caring about making a statement. 

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Odom, Jr. and Jewett as the father-daughter duo at the center also provide a breath of fresh air to typical horror dynamics, as we don’t usually see a single father struggling to raise his daughter. Katherine’s typical nuclear family stands as a foil to the pair, which is the base of a fascinating discussion of what it means to be a family. But, again, there’s nothing done with that. Sure, it may be addressed in the next film, but there’s no foreshadowing or attempt to propel that discussion forward. Sequels shouldn’t be scapegoats, but I have a feeling they will be in the case of this film.

The Exorcist: Believer needs to be the final nail in the coffin of franchise reboots and requels, at least in terms of how studios are currently approaching them. Stop with the fan service and the unnecessary winks and nods to the audience that only serve as annoying distractions. Give new filmmakers a chance to try something different. If we’re never going to let go of IP, then we desperately need to look to examples like Nia DaCosta’s Candyman instead of whatever Green thinks he delivers with The Exorcist: Believer. And to think we’re supposed to get two more of these movies… With so many incredible horror movies on the horizon, the fact that this title will get all of the attention is deeply disappointing. Please don’t judge the state of the horror genre based on The Exorcist: Believer alone. It’s so much better than this.



David Gordon Green’s The Exorcist: Believer fundamentally misunderstands its source material and has nothing of any real substance to say.



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