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“The Exorcist: Believer” Raises Doubt

Film poster: “The Exorcist: Believer”

The Exorcist: Believer (David Gordon Green, 2023) 2 out of 4 stars.

Legacy sequels seem to be all the rage in horror nowadays. The premise of having a sequel some 30 to 40 years after the first film and involving an actor or actress from that initial entry is one that sells. The idea attracts old fans of the original film as well as new audience members, making for excellent return on investment.

These really took off with 2018’s sequel to the original Halloween, and several films have tried to copy that formula. Now, David Gordon Green, the director of the 2018 Halloween, is back at the helm of another legacy sequel: The Exorcist: Believer. While the film has its merits, he unfortunately can’t quite replicate the success of his first legacy outing.

Lidya Jewett in THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER ©Universal Pictures

In The Exorcist: Believer, two young girls, Angela (Lidya Jewett, Hidden Figures) and Katherine (Olivia O’Neill, making her debut), venture into the woods one day after school to attempt a spooky ritual. Angela’s father, Victor (Leslie Odom Jr., Murder on the Orient Express) thinks the two girls are at Katherine’s house and tells Angela to be home before dinner. When she does not return at all that night, he teams up with Katherine’s parents to find the pair.

After missing for three days, Angela and Katherine are finally found in a barn, albeit in very poor condition. Scratches, bruises, and bumps line the girls’ skin and their nails begin to fall off, as if they are in decay. Worst of all, there’s something not quite right about either of them, as they behave in eerily strange ways.

Olivia O’Neill in THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER ©Universal Pictures

Katherine’s parents believe their daughter is possessed. However, Victor can’t bring himself to believe such an outlandish proposition. As Victor searches for answers, Angela’s condition worsens, forcing Victor to come to terms with the possibility of something he can’t comprehend causing his daughter’s condition.

When viewing the trailers for this film, I thought I was in for a terrifying experience. Unfortunately, most of the horror elements do not impress. The film offers a few passable jump scares that did make this critic, well, jump. However, it offers little in terms of tension. I don’t mind jump scares, but I like them much more when they come at the conclusion of a slow, long build of suspense that has the viewer on the edge of their seat.

l-r: Leslie Odom Jr. and Lidya Jewett in THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER ©Universal Pictures

Instead, most scares in this movie happen due to the editing. Now, the editing in this film is quite spectacular, and I’ll give credit where credit is due. The cuts are used in a clever way to reveal a creepy, disturbing image all of a sudden, which is fun for a moment, but gets old fast and doesn’t marinate in one’s mind as much as a well-earned, slowly revealed flash of something frightening.

In many ways, The Exorcist: Believer plays out more as a drama than a horror film, as the film is very character-based. Victor functions as our central character, a layered, compelling individual who is easy to root for and sympathize with. Odom Jr. delivers a decent performance, as do Jewett and O’Neill. The performances are very solid all around, and there is a plethora of quality characters that all have a bit to offer.

l-r: Leslie Odom Jr.and Ellen Burstyn in THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER ©Universal Pictures

Sadly, as much as I enjoyed some characters, others were severely underused. For example, we don’t get to see Angela and Katherine interact much at all after they come back from the woods. This seems like a badly missed opportunity to explore something very enticing between the two once they’re possessed.

The worst case of an underused character is, quite disappointingly, our legacy character: Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn, Pieces of a Woman). Ellen Burstyn returns once again to play the mother of Regan, the possessed girl who is the central focus of the original 1973 The Exorcist. MacNeil is relegated to only two major scenes and does nothing to add to the film whatsoever. It seems Burstyn was brought back only for publicity purposes, as the film would be no different without her character.

Ann Dowd in THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER ©Universal Pictures

The third act of the film offers some intriguing scenarios, but they seem rushed and a bit forced. Also, the surprisingly tame and slightly messy conclusion pales in comparison to the much more intense showdown at the end of the original. The film does end with a great message, however, which proves inspiring. However, many different messages are conveyed throughout, and the final act does not support all of them.

In the end, The Exorcist: Believer is a slightly disappointing sequel that can’t get out of the shadow cast by the original. It has many bright spots and aspects to relish, such as its fleshed-out central character and stellar editing and technical prowess. However, there are too many missed opportunities in terms of plot lines and character relationships to overcome in a film filled with as much that is contained here. Unlike David Gordon Green’s Halloween, which in my opinion rivals the 1978 original, The Exorcist: Believer can’t hold a candle to the late William Friedkin’s classic.

l-r: Ellen Burstyn and Leslie Odom Jr. in THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER ©Universal Pictures
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Matt Patti has enjoyed voicing his opinions on films from a young age. He has lived in the Baltimore, Maryland, area since 2015 and is a graduate of Stevenson University’s Film & Moving Image program. Matt is currently back at Stevenson University, working as the School of Design, Arts, and Communication's Studio Manager.

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