The Exorcist: Believer Movie Review
The Exorcist: Believer Movie Review Metadata
I think it’s time to admit that David Gordon Green should just stay away from reboots and remakes. We may have been forgiving with the Halloween series (well, I wasn’t), because no one was expecting anything ground-breaking anyway, but the original The Exorcist (1973) is a hallowed institution. The Exorcist: Believer (2023) is a bit like letting your dog pee on its front porch.
Middle-schoolers Angela (Lidya Jewett) and Katherine (Olivia O’Neill) disappear for three days after taking a walk into the woods to contact ghosts and spirits. Angela wants to contact her mother, who died during childbirth, and no one cares who Katherine wants to contact because it isn’t brought up. After a frantic search, they re-emerge in a barn 30 miles away with no memory of where they’ve been or the lost time. They also begin violently acting out, bedwetting, offering unsolicited cryptic messages, beyond teenage girl stuff. Victor (Leslie Odom Jr.) cannot face losing his daughter, Angela, his only link to his late wife, and searches for alternative ways to reach her. Miranda (Jennifer Nettles) and Tony (Norbert Leo Butz) are Katherine’s parents and use the tried-and-true method of absolute denial to treat her violent outbursts. Eventually Ann (Ann Dowd), Victor’s trash-can-cop neighbor and registered nurse, gives him a book to read, because reading makes everything better. He tracks down the author, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) – this can’t be a spoiler because it’s in the trailer – whose own daughter survived a possession and exorcism, you know the one. After some (s)talking and chats over tea, everyone decides an exorcism is the way to go, culminating in the blandest exorcism this side of network TV.
Possession movies are kind of my jam. I get a deeply satisfying tickle seeing someone dig deep into their faith to vanquish an entity that has all of the arrogance and power, but crumbles when faced with Big B Belief. That was the point of The Exorcist, not Regan’s possession, but Father Karras overcoming his own self-doubt and Dark Night of the Soul. Possession movies are a flex of “my god is better than your god” and in most of these films, the person performing the exorcism either comes to a revelation or has to make a supreme sacrifice: set aside their arrogance to accept that their strength comes from a higher power or offer their body and soul in exchange for the possessed. It’s often the latter because human ego is practically a mortal sin, especially in the Church.
The Exorcist: Believer, in its rush to show children in escalating peril due to arrogance or denial, forgets that at the heart of possession is doubt and fear, and only Faith and Sacrifice can overcome it. This essentially is the missing link in a film that took the time to bring together a lapsed nun, a Rootworker, a non-denominational pastor, two evangelicals, and an atheist so they could all go through the motions of what David Gordon Green’s idea of an exorcism should be. There is no ego at the expense of innocence. There is no lesson to be learned. There is no real sacrifice because what happened and what ends up happening is so random, its resolution is ham-fisted and embarrassing. The exorcism itself is over the last 15 minutes of the film and lacks even the toothless posturing we’ve come to expect from organized religion.
Dear misguided screenwriters, directors, and production companies looking to capitalize on something you read in a Medium blog article in 2009: I know Black People are super-interesting and POC in general offer a spice to life that goes beyond Taco Bell and Hot Chicken, but for the love of God, stop inserting Magical Negros into your narratives ushered in by well-meaning culture vultures. There are two instances of this in The Exorcist: Believer, and both are cringeworthy. When Angela goes missing, Stuart (Danny McCarthy), a friend of Victor, lets himself into the Feilding house with several Black women in what can only be described as Ethnic Gear, to chant over Angela’s things. Who needs boundaries when you know Black People, amirite? Then we meet a Rootworker, Dr. Behibe (Okwui Okpokwasili), gathering grave dirt in a cemetery who brings her brand of generic Hoodoo (and I mean generic and borderline racist) to an exorcism of a 1st Century Mesopotamian demon, Lamashtu, because why tf not. She can also sense when the exorcism is going well or not well, because Black people have been the spiritual canary in the mine in horror movies since forever.
Oh, and how do I know it’s 1st Century Mesopotamian demon, Lamashtu? Because it’s in the production notes given to me by the studio. It’s certainly not mentioned in the movie, like never. No one asks the name of the demon (a staple in possession movies) but this demon is supposed to be significant in ways that defy logic and script rewrites. Please prepare your personal jets for this leap. What is the catalyst for this possession? No one knows. Why are two girls simultaneously possessed? No one knows. How do you defeat a demon if you don’t know its name? lol- No one knows. Why and how was the final choice made in the conclusion – absolutely no one knows. If you can draw the line between these possessions and this demon as well as who survives for the sequel, treat yourself to a cookie and a lie-down because it’s exhausting.
The Exorcist: Believer is a competently acted film. These are Grade-A Actors handling material that would be at home in any made-for-television movie. There are meaningful glares, uncomfortable contact lenses, ineffective praying, and startled screaming. There is nothing as inspired as the spider-walk of the original, just stolen hospital heart monitors and a lot of chalk. Why this movie is rated R is another mystery since there’s nothing particularly gory or terrifying. The Exorcist: Believer is mostly jump scares, black goo, and a snake. While they may be treating The Exorcist as canon, they didn’t do it any favors in cobbling together this “best of” highlight reel of more successful exorcisms during the last 50 years.
2023 hasn’t been great for horror movies, especially not retreads, but The Exorcist: Believer is going to rank up there as one of the bigger disappointments. This is not how any movie franchise wants to celebrate a golden anniversary, and The Exorcist deserved better.
The Exorcist: Believer (2023) is rated R for swears, children in peril, lewd hand gestures in church, unexpected enucleation, black vomit, snakes, broken necks, scarification, and an utter lack of faith (in the source material).