The Exorcist: Believer Review

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If The Exorcist: Believer was just another exorcism movie, it might be a passable way to kick off October. Since it’s an Exorcist movie, however, it must be evaluated as such. That almost sounds unfair, as you can’t expect any sequel to match the impact of the late William Friedkin’s masterpiece. At the very least, though, you expect a film worthy of the Exorcist name. Unfortunately, if it weren’t for a few iconic musical cues and the presence of Ellen Burstyn, you wouldn’t even know that this was an Exorcist movie. It easily blends in with The Last Exorcism, The Pope’s Exorcist, and all of the other movies hoping to be mistaken for the 1973 classic.

Fresh off the Halloween trilogy, David Gordon Green assembles a capable cast led by Leslie Odom Jr. He gives a solid performance as Victor Fielding, who lost his wife shortly after giving birth to their only child. Lidya Jewett plays middle schooler Angela, who goes missing with a friend named Katherine (Olivia Marcum). They resurface after three years, but they have no recollection of where they’ve been or how they got several mysterious wounds. As both start spouting obscenities in a familiar voice, it becomes clear that a good, old-fashioned exorcism is in order.

Having two possessed children could’ve helped distinguish The Exorcist: Believer from other entries in the franchise. Had Angela and Katherine been combined into one character, though, it wouldn’t have drastically changed the plot. The first act does little to establish a meaningful bond between these two. It’s not even clear if they’re just friends or if a romance was starting to blossom. Another missed opportunity comes when Victor and Katherine’s parents (Jennifer Nettles and Norbert Leo Butz) are presented with an impossible choice. This plot point could’ve gone in any number of fascinating directions, but the execution feels rushed and unsatisfying because the character dynamics aren’t fleshed out.

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The biggest letdown concerns Ellen Burstyn’s return as Chris MacNeil after 50 years. This isn’t due to Burstyn’s performance, but rather, the character’s depiction. David Gordon Green did Laurie Strode justice with his 2018 version of Halloween. Then with Halloween Kills, he didn’t give Jamie Lee Curtis much to do other than lay around in a hospital bed. Burstyn’s role in The Exorcist: Believer sadly feels closer to the latter. Say what you will about Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, but he at least got a couple of emotional and badass moments. Chris is simply done dirty. Not only are some of the decisions regarding the character infuriating, but Chris serves no real purpose here. Ann Dowd plays a former nun turned nurse who also knows a lot about exorcisms, rendering Chris mostly pointless.

Dowd and the rest of the cast help to elevate the material. The production values are chilling and occasionally, we get a decent scare. Despite the efforts of the actors and below-the-line artists, there’s no reason for The Exorcist: Believer to exist. Well, other than to justify the $400 million that Universal and Peacock paid for the franchise’s distribution rights. That said, expect the studio to churn out at least two more of these movies to recoup their investment. Alas, you’re better off watching the original and praying that Hollywood stops milking every IP.

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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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