THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER Review: Hell is Warmer Than This

Editor, Canada; Montréal, Canada (@bonnequin)
THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER Review: Hell is Warmer Than This

I am, of course, referring to that final, frozen level of hell as pictured in Dante's Inferno. But even calling The Exorcist: Believer colder than the coldest hell might be giving it too much credit, or really, any credit that it does not earn.

At first we might think, why does this film even exist? Well, we know why: to make money, to capitalize on a previously existing and beloved film. And perhaps its sequels, but really the first film, which is singular not just as horror but as psychological drama. Luckily we still have Friedkin's masterpiece, because this film, directed by David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls, Halloween), co-written by Green, Danny McBride, and Scott Teems, is the opposite in quality.

The premise is pretty much your boilerplate exorcism story: Victor (Leslie Odom Jr), on holiday with his wife in Haiti, is forced to make a terrible choice. Flashforward many years, and he's a single dad to the precocious Angela (Lidya Jewett). She wants to know about her mother, and so sneaks off with her friend Katherine (Olivia O'Neill) to perform a ritual. The girls are missing for three days; when found they start to exhibit strange behaviour, along with violence to their bodies. With barely the blink of an eye, Victor and the other girl's parents decide they need spiritual guidance to get their daughters back.

If you told me that each of the three screenwriters wrote just a section, with only a short synopsis of what occured in the other sections, and no one read this script through a second time (and the producers not even a first time), I would believe you. If this had been just a random exorcism film, from some random filmmaker, without any names attached - it would have been, well, not great, but perhaps passable. We get something maybe a little new but not surprising: suspicion of a black, single, non-religious dad by the more well-off white parents; then we get the familiar: a neighbour who seems rude but secretly knows about the darker matters hidden by the Catholic Church, and a ritual that will involve the devil talking shit about those trying to expel him. But there is so little new or exceptional in this film that I again, wonder why anyone bothered.

Attaching this to The Exorcist is not only wholly unnecessary, it borders on insulting. Not just for the audience, or those who made the original film (and even the original trilogy), but specifically for Burstyn. She and her brief involvement (maybe 15 minutes total?) could be completely lifted from this film and it wouldn't make one bit of difference to the story. I do not blame her - she is one of our great actors, and she's bringing her good work as best she can, but she is hampered by having nothing to do with the story at hand, being given subpar dialogue, and a backstory completely at odds with themes of the original film (basically she's there to try and make the filmmakers look good, and guess what - it fails).

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Likewise with Odom and Dowd. They are both excellent actors, arguably each at the top of their game right now. There is one halfway decent scene where Dowd's character talks about her past, and she infuses that with compassion and pain. Odom lets us see the constant conflict of this father who adores his daughter, and is haunted by the memory of the terrible choice he had to make. I wish these performances were enough to make it worthwhile. But when the other actors just don't measure up, as hard as they try (and with accents that keep slipping into southern? It was never clear.)

It would be nice to have an exorcism story told more from the victim's perspective (it happens, but not often); it would have been nice for the writers just to have an original thought, instead of relying on previous material to prop up their threadbare tale. It would have been nice if someone, anyone, had read through this script and pointed out the inconsistencies, useless repetitions of dialogue and exposition, and given the actors something substantial to hold onto - because even when there is a hint of something, it's quickly swept away in favour of tired clichéd and stupid quips to make an audience groan.

This is not an homage; it's not even fan service. The Exorcist: Believer is the laziest of cheap cash grabs that treats its talent in front of the screen like cogs in a wheel and its audience like idiots. Save your time, and buy the original on DVD/Blu-ray instead.

The Exorcist: Believer will be released on Friday, October 6th.

The Exorcist: Believer

  • David Gordon Green
  • Peter Sattler
  • David Gordon Green
  • Scott Teems
  • Ellen Burstyn
  • Jennifer Nettles
  • Ann Dowd
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David Gordon GreenPeter SattlerScott TeemsEllen BurstynJennifer NettlesAnn DowdHorror

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