There has been a countless supply of exorcism films over the years. Some tied to the original franchise and with many others choosing their own path. Fresh off a divisive Halloween reboot trilogy, director David Gordon Green is now revisiting another famous horror franchise with The Exorcist: Believer, a film serving as a direct sequel to William Friedkin’s 1973 horror masterpiece. I’ll admit I wasn’t the biggest fan of Green’s reimagining of the Halloween franchise, and I felt his handling of the Michael Myers legacy in Halloween Kills was a world-class fumble. Regardless, I went into this film with hopeful optimism and while I can’t say it was a great film, I also wouldn’t consider it a horrible one.
What The Exorcist: Believer has in its corner right out of the gate is a collection of skilled actors to fill out these characters. Leslie Odom Jr. was fantastic in this role of Victor, a father raising his daughter after the death of his wife. Years have passed and Victor has seemingly compartmentalized his grief in order to give his daughter a happy life. Yet, you can sense his pain is just under the surface and Odom Jr. is able to skillfully navigate these gripping emotional layers to create a naturally compelling character that you don’t often get in horror films.
His daughter Angela, played by Lidya Jewett, and her friend Katherine, played by Olivia Marcum, are another two essential pieces this film relies on to land its impact. And these young actors knock it out of the park. Early on they feel at home inside authentically naïve personas of a couple normal bubbly kids. Then as the terror ratchets up and the possession takes control, both are able to dip into some truly sinister territory and it makes the horror moments highly effective. Jewett and Marcum go all-in on these characters, and they were just what this film needed.
Visually The Exorcist: Believer works as well. Green’s direction is capable, but nothing too flashy. When this movie really kicks into the demonic elements Green’s framing of the shots and his choice of angles is able to create that unsettling feeling you want when watching these types of films. However, during the quiet moments, as the gears of the story are churning forward the direction simplifies a lot and for long stretches it feels, looks, and moves, like many…many other recent horror films. With that said, when all hell is breaking loose in this movie it’s a good time. The main hindrance is that during the quiet moments, the overall mood and energy drops too much for too long a period.
This story’s layers of mystery work nicely as Victory deals with his own grief and the trauma inflicted on his daughter that sends him in search for answers. This movie also works well as a traditional exorcism movie when these pieces of the story are the focus. The problem is these two don’t come together seamlessly enough to feel truly compelling in either facet. When the frightening suspense splashes in it often ends abruptly returning to expositional storytelling. This is when the frequent monologues take over and the film relies on jump-scares to keep the heightened intensity at the desired level. I think this hinders the potential to fully engage with the film because its unique pieces, those that manage to lure you in, are surrounded by procedural filmmaking and storytelling that frequently undercut the looming atmosphere.
Overall, The Exorcist: Believer is a fine film. It does more things well than not and the performances alone make it worth a shot. There are emotional elements to pull from the story that are genuinely intriguing. Yet, the ominous tone was too often hampered by long stretches of formulaic plot progression. In the end it should’ve been ten to fifteen minutes shorter, and incorporated more of the demonic themed fear into the places it chose to use plug-and-play jump-scares. This would’ve kept the pacing and tension at a consistent level instead of the highs and lows it ultimately provides.
CAST: Leslie Odom Jr., Ellen Burstyn, Jennifer Nettles, Ann Dowd, Olivia Marcum, Lidya Jewett, E.J. Bonilla, Raphael Sbarge DIRECTOR: David Gordon Green WRITER(S): Peter Sattler, David Gordon Green, Scott Teems, Danny McBride, William Peter Blatty (Bases on Characters By) DISTRIBUTOR: Universal Pictures RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes RATING: R (For violent content, disturbing images, language, sexual references) YEAR: 2023 LANGUAGE: English GENRE: Horror
Anthony J. Digioia II © 2023 SilverScreen Analysis