'The Exorcist: Believer' review: Lord, forgive Hollywood for they have sinned
Courtesy of Universal/Blumhouse
Isn’t a movie with the word “exorcist” in the title supposed to have, I don’t know, an exorcist?
Well, this is awkward.
After shelling out something in the ballpark of $400 million dollars for rights to the franchise, Blumhouse and writer-director David Gordon Green can’t even make good on the simple premise of having a flipping exorcist! It makes you wonder where things went so horribly wrong. Green was able to refine the “Halloween” franchise and use the IP as a statement on trauma and PTSD while also suggesting evil spans generation and society can be responsible for the monsters they create. No such innovation or real-world sensibilities are prevalent in “The Exorcist: Believer,” a legacy sequel that, aside from the name and the return of Ellen Burstyn, is no different than the entourage of possession thrillers that didn’t have brand recognition.
Rather than an exorcist, Green puts the attention on Victor (Leslie Odom Jr – one of the only salvageable elements in the movie), a single father who is heavily protective of his 13-year-daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett) after her mother died in childbirth following an earthquake while they were in Haiti (which, for a variety of reasons, including its inspiration, is in poor taste). He lets his guard down for one night to let Angela do homework at her BFF Katherine’s (Olivia O’Neill) house and they end up missing and found three days later with no recollection of how long they’ve been gone. These early scenes are reminiscent of “Prisoners” and have a sense of urgency where, for a moment, maybe the film is going somewhere.
Alas, the young girls begin exhibiting the key symptoms of demonic possession, including the occasional gooey discharge, and speaking in tongues, and Green and co-writer Peter Sattler ditch character development in lieu of bringing in Burstyn’s Chris MacNeil in the most shameless and useless way imaginable. Considering this is Burstyn’s first time reprising the role in 50 years (she hasn’t been involved with any of the sequels prior to this), it’s kind of insane what’s cooked up for the iconic actress. The movie would have benefited from more of her perspective and gravitas, because when she’s on screen, you hang on every piece of dialogue. I won’t spoil what happens to the character, but I’m just glad she got paid.
And she’s not the only one who seems misplaced as the film doesn’t know when or how to humanize its primary subjects beyond their predicament. We barely get to know Angela or Katherine (and we really don’t get to know Katherine’s parents, played by Jennifer Nettles and Norbert Leo Butz, who are essentially walking stereotypes) before they become the Pazuzu’s lunch. The entire film also hinges on Victor’s lack of faith and how he doesn’t believe in the occult, yet seeing two girls speaking with demonic voices and puking bloody excrements would sway most skeptics.
While it might not seem that way on paper, “The Exorcist: Believer” is somewhat of a missed opportunity. Think of the world we live in now compared to 50 years ago (how is the catholic church’s reputation doing these days? Or women’s rights?) and that Green can’t find anything new or meaningful to say is both strange and frustrating. Ah well, it’s not like the studio spent $400 million dollars developing what’s presumably the start of a new franchise!
THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER is now playing in theaters.