Exorcist, The: Believer (United States, 2023)

October 06, 2023
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Exorcist, The: Believer Poster


David Gordon Green got Halloween. When the celebrated indie director embarked on the project of creating a trilogy of disconnected direct sequels to the original 1978 film, he displayed a sure-handedness that surprised many people. Although one can argue that three films was at least one too many, his 2018 re-introduction of Michael Meyers offered the second-best entry into the long-running, uneven franchise. As I wrote at the time: “This is the sequel Halloween fans have been awaiting for four decades.”

Now, Green has turned his attention to The Exorcist, a horror series that, like Halloween, has been kicking around since the 1970s. Also like Halloween, a plethora of follow-ups have diminished the luster of the first. William Friedkin’s original, released during the winter of 1973-74, remains a disturbing motion picture. Its prequels/sequels are, excepting Exorcist III, cringe-worthy and laughable. What better reclamation project for the man who spiffed up the Halloween brand? It might have helped if Green understood The Exorcist a little better rather than just copying from it.

The trailer makes The Exorcist: Believer seem like an inspired merging of a new story with a returning character. It kindled my admittedly-cool interest in the project. The problem is that the job of the marketing department is to sell tickets not necessarily to accurately reflect the movie in question. So we get a “lie” that we don’t realize is a “lie” until we’re captive in a multiplex seat. Ellen Burstyn makes a return as Chris MacNeil, but her role is so inconsequential that one wonders, why bother? It’s little more than an extended cameo. (Although she’s on-screen longer than Linda Blair, whose brief appearance recalls Mark Hamill at the end of The Force Awakens.) One wonders why she agreed since she famously refused to make The Exorcist II: The Heretic after excoriating the script.

To be fair, the first half of The Exorcist: Believer is okay – a little generic and underwritten, perhaps, but not downright bad. After a prologue set in Haiti that introduces the film’s protagonist, Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom Jr.), events jump ahead a dozen years to modern-day Atlanta, where Victor lives with his middle school daughter, Angela (Lidya Jewett). Like most kids her age, Angela has minimal faith in her father’s competence so she hides her afterschool plans from him. She and her best friend, Katherine (Olivia Marcum), head out to the woods to perform some sort of séance to contact Angela’s mother. Needless to say, things don’t go as planned and, when the girls fail to return home that evening, Victor and Katherine’s parents, Miranda (Jennifer Nettles) and Tony (Norbert Leo Butz), call the police. It takes three days before the girls are found and they have brought something back with them from the other side: the demon Pazuzu, who possessed Regan MacNeil (Blair) some fifty years earlier.

It's apparent that something’s not right with Angela and Katherine but it takes a little while before they go “full Regan.” Disappointingly, no heads spin around, no green goo is vomited out, and neither girl does the spider-walk. Recognizing that there’s something very wrong with his daughter, Victor seeks help from octogenarian Chris MacNeil (Burstyn), who shoehorns in three exposition-laden scenes before being incapacitated. The scene in which the demon attacks her is shot in such a haphazard, chaotic fashion that I initially thought it was a dream. Once Chris is out of the picture, it’s up to Victor, with the help of his next-door neighbor (Ann Dowd), to arrange a multi-faith exorcism. (This would have William Peter Blatty spinning in his grave.)

I guess Green was trying to pay homage to the exorcism scene from The Exorcist when he filmed his version of the “out, out, demon!” sequence. The problem is, it comes across more like a parody than an homage, filled with bad acting, bad CGI, and a complete lack of coherence and tension. Don’t ask me to explain what happens because it’s idiotic and the constant psychobabble about faith and the nature of good/evil is tedious. It says a lot that the best moments of the second hour are those that have nothing to do with the exorcism and the best bit of dialogue is: “No, Mom, it’s me.”

Still, this is far from the worst horror movie I have seen. In fact, it’s not even the worst Exorcist movie. No, it’s not scary. It lacks suspense and tension. But the first hour isn’t half-bad and there are isolated moments when Green seems to be onto something. Apparently, the director is already at work on two sequels. My request is simple: please shelve them. There’s nothing in The Exorcist: Believer that makes me want to revisit this world again. I didn’t like the new characters and was unimpressed with what was done with the old ones. Leave this franchise alone and move onto something else.

Exorcist, The: Believer (United States, 2023)

Run Time: 1:51
U.S. Release Date: 2023-10-06
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Disturbing Images, Profanity)
Genre: Horror
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1