With his Halloween trilogy now completed, director David Gordon Green now turns his attention to reviving another franchise that began in the 1970s with a smash horror hit. The Exorcist: Believer is the sixth installment in a film series that probably didn’t need much expansion outside the original chapter but since that film made over $400 million at the box office back in 1973, we continue to pay for the sins of curious moviegoers all those years ago. Universal, whose acquisition of the Exorcist rights was reported to have a $400 million price tag, is careful to follow the legacy sequel playbook they helped establish in 2015 with Jurassic World. Give the audiences plenty of elements they remember from the first film with enough new bits to feel like they’ve experienced something original. The formula this time around feels particularly hollow.
Similar to the Iraq-set prologue in The Exorcist, The Exorcist: Believer opens in a location apart from the rest of the story with a chilling preface. Victor (Leslie Odom Jr.) and pregnant Sorenne (Tracey Graves) are honeymooning in Haiti when a giant earthquake levels their hotel. This forces Victor to choose between saving either their unborn baby or Sorenne after the latter is severely injured in the cataclysm. 13 years later, Victor is doing his best to raise daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett) by himself while making end’s meet as a photographer. After school one day, Angela and her friend Katherine (Olivia O’Neill) go out to the woods and attempt to convene with the spirit of Angela’s deceased mother. The pair is missing for three days after being found in a barn miles away from the woods with no memory of the missing time. Victor is, of course, relieved to have Angela back home but her strange behavior following the incident points to something more ungodly as opposed to just unusual.
From here, The Exorcist: Believer plays the hits it presumes the audience will want to hear. Beds are wet, bodies are levitated and the fog machines kick into high gear. Prior to this, Green at least tries to establish a worthwhile story before the movie becomes possessed by franchise necessities and studio notes. Put bluntly, Odom Jr. is insanely overqualified to play this thankless role but, ever the professional, he puts his all into it nonetheless. He and Jewett have a very believable and fun chemistry as a father and daughter brought closer together by tragic circumstances. Sadly, their connection means less as the film proceeds, since the plotline has to make more room for secondary characters played by Ann Dowd and Ellen Burstyn, the latter reprising from the 1973 original.
If The Exorcist: Believer is more discouraging than Green’s Halloween films, it’s because the filmmaker doesn’t seem to have a grasp on what makes the original film remarkable. It’s ironic because he could have made his Halloween movies simply about Michael Myers and the people he stabs but, to his credit, Green goes deeper than that with the Laurie Strode character and the trauma she’s endured. Conversely, Green ultimately demonstrates that what’s important to him about The Exorcist is preteen girls using foul language and vomiting pea soup on priests. Not only were those aspects actually transgressive at the time, when they’re simply old hat by now, but that first film is, rightly, about the priests and their faith being shaken by such evil events. Believer has a priest character, portrayed by E.J. Bonilla, who barely registers as an afterthought when all is said and done.
If Universal is dead set on having demons like Pazuzu and Lamashtu being their new spooky baddie like Michael Myers, they need to find someone who will engage with the material better for the sequels. Truth be told, Green should be past this “one for them” part of his filmography anyway at this point. He’s had an interesting career, to say the least, alternating between blisteringly affecting indies like Joe and Snow Angels to goofy stoner riffs like Pineapple Express and Your Highness before getting stuck in this franchise horror milieu. I know Blumhouse is always looking to franchise but it feels like they’d have more luck with a M3GAN series at this point. Regardless, The Exorcist: Believer is a humdrum sequel that true believers in The Exorcist will likely find to be sacrilegious.
Score – 2/5
New movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, the concert film documenting the cultural phenomenon that is the ongoing titular concert series from pop behemoth Taylor Swift.
Premiering on Amazon Prime is The Burial, a legal drama inspired by true events starring Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones about a lawyer who helps a funeral home owner save his family business from a deceitful corporation.
Streaming on Netflix is The Conference, a horror comedy starring Katia Winter and Adam Lundgren in which a team-building conference for municipal employees turns into a nightmare when a mysterious figure begins murdering the participants.
Reprinted by permission of Whatzup