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October 6, 2023 / Universal Pictures Canada

Starring: Leslie Odom Jr., Ann Dowd, Ellen Burstyn, Jennifer Nettles, Norbert Leo Butz, Lidya Jewett, Olivia Marcum

Directed By: David Gordon Green

Since the death of his pregnant wife in a Haitian earthquake 12 years ago, Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom, Jr.) has raised their daughter, Angela (Lidya Jewett) on his own.

But when Angela and her friend Katherine (Olivia Marcum) disappear in the woods, only to return three days later with no memory of what happened to them, it unleashes a chain of events that will force Victor to confront the nadir of evil and, in his terror and desperation, seek out the only person alive who has witnessed anything like it before: Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn).

Written By Darren

Rating 2.5 out of 5

The Exorcist: Believer starts of strong with a chilling atmosphere and a sense of intrigue in the film’s first half, but sadly becomes a subpar and uninspired retread of William Friedkin’s original classic that wastes the talented performances of Leslie Odom, Jr., Lidya Jewett and Olivia Marcum.

David Gordon Green and Danny McBride successfully rebooted one of the most iconic horror movies of all time with their Halloween trilogy. Hoping to strike gold twice, they have turned their sights to another classic of the genre: William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. Regarded as one of the greatest horror films of all time, the bar was set high for Green and McBride to reboot the franchise with one film, let alone a trilogy. Just in time for the original’s fiftieth anniversary, The Exorcist: Believer hits the big screen for Halloween movie season, hoping to generate fear amongst moviegoers. While the film has its strong elements that tease promise for an exciting new entry in the franchise, the film falls apart in its second half when it becomes a dull and lifeless imitation of the original film, reminding audiences yet again that not every classic film needs to be rebooted.

After their two daughters disappear in the woods and return three days later with no recollection of what happened to them, their families begin to fear that there is something unholy affecting their daughters. In an effort to save them, Victor, the father of one of the girls, seeks out Chris MacNeil for her guidance, hoping that the demonic possession of her daughter Regan fifty years ago will provide insight into what is happening to his daughter.

There is no denying that The Exorcist: Believer starts off strong in the first half of the film. With the two young girls disappearing, there is a true sense of mystery as to what happened to them in the woods while the grief experienced by the parents strikes an emotional chord with the audience. Once the girls re-appear, there are some truly chilling moments as the possession becomes more and more apparent, all building towards the return of Ellen Burstyn’s Chris MacNeil. The father-daughter relationship between Victor and Angela is touching, creating the emotional centre of the film as you watch this father trying to save his entire life once he realizes a demon is possessing his daughter. While similar to the original film, there’s enough going on to hook the audience and differentiate it in the first half, allowing the franchise to explore new storylines at the same time as delivering some spine tingling moments.

Unfortunately, the story falls off the rails in the second half. It becomes a subpar version of the original film very quickly, failing to capture the interesting discussions regarding religion and faith that the original had, while playing the greatest hits of the original as its scare tactics. The film loses all sense of danger, never for a second do you doubt that both girls will be saved, while the scary moments fail to generate any decent reactions from the audience. There are not enough scenes showing the possessed actions of the two young girls, which halts any development of the horror aspect of the story, failing to deliver the scares that made the original film so iconic. Green and McBride end the film on a startling and controversial decision, and while it is ambitious and an interesting direction for the story, it’s too little too late to salvage the film. The big exorcism sequence itself is an uninspiring climax of the film, failing to create the uncontrollable terror that the original film had. It never helps for a second that there are far too many characters present in the films, with the majority of them not being developed or serving much of a purpose. And the film’s biggest crime is its use of Ellen Burstyn’s Chris MacNeil. There is no real purpose for Chris to play in the story, other than providing a lifeline to the original film to justify this film’s existence as a legacy sequel. The screenplay merely uses her for three good scenes before tossing her to the side and forgetting that she is one of the main reasons that the audience has come to see this film. While there is already a sequel announced, it’s unclear where the story is going next at the end of this entry in the series, nor do I see any reason for a trilogy to be built upon this film as it barely justifies its existence on its own.

Green’s direction of the film uses many of the same techniques and artistic choices of Friedkin in the original film, but he does not possess the same cinematic flair to pull them off. The film’s choppy editing, while effective at times to show flashes of the demonic entity like the original film, is overused and becomes disorienting, cheapening the chilling effect of this technique. The practical effects for the actual exorcism scene are flawless, harkening back to the revolutionary scene from the original film, while the prosthetics and makeup design to make the two young actresses feel possessed is exquisite.

Easily holding the film together are the performances of Lidya Jewett and Olivia Marcum as Angela and Katherine, the two young girls who become possessed, and Leslie Odom, Jr. as Victor, Angela’s father. Jewett and Marcum have a vibrant screen presence to create these two delightful young girls that you instantly fall in love with, creating an emotional bond to their characters to help build fear for their survival once they become possessed. Once the demonic entity has taken over them, both girls deliver chilling performances full of grotesque facial expressions, dead stares that cut you to your soul, and a wicked vileness that makes you believe in the devil. Odom, Jr. becomes the beating heart of the film as the young father trying to save his daughter with a captivating performance. Instantly, he lets you into his character’s heartbreak and struggle to save his daughter, while displaying his skepticism to the concept of demonic possession. If the trilogy does move forward, hopefully Odom, Jr., Jewett and Marcum are back as they were the life of the entire film.

Sadly, the rest of the performances weren’t great. Elen Burstyn’s glorified cameo was a misuse of the actress’s talent, giving her very little to do and no meaningful purpose to be present in the film after her three big scenes. Ann Dowd gives the most Ann Dowd performance of all time, it’s not bad but it is so out of place in this film that it sticks out like a sore thumb. And the rest of the cast is not given enough time or material to make any sort of impact on the film, especially Jennifer Nettles and Norbert Leo Butz as Katherine’s parents who lack the emotional bond with their daughter and audience that Odom, Jr.’s character had.

Someone call a priest, as we need prayers for The Exorcist franchise going forward. While David Gordon Green and Danny McBride set out to pay tribute to WIlliam Friedkin’s horror classic and start off the film strong, it quickly falls apart and delivers a messy and largely not scary entry in the series. While the strong performances of Leslie Odom, Jr., Lidya Jewett and Olivia Marcum keep you captivated throughout the film, there is very little that The Exorcist: Believer has to offer as it plays out as a greatest hits of the original film without the stakes to fully invest the audience in this battle between two young families and the devil.

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