Review | The Exorcist: Believer | 2023

Since its original release 50 years ago, there have been many attempts to turn The Exorcist into a horror franchise - none have been particularly successful, meeting with a collective shrug from audiences while the original continues to endure as one of the most popular horror films of all time. 

Enter David Gordon Green, whose recent trilogy of Halloween films sought to reboot the series and erase the myriad sequels by returning the series to its roots. Green's sequels were a mixed bag with both fans and audiences, but his Halloween (2018) was such a strong mix of nostalgia and horror that it's no surprise that he turned his eyes on another classic horror film from the 1970s.

Unlike Halloween, however, The Exorcist did not inspire an enduring legacy of sequels - the sequels it did spawn were mostly maligned and barely remembered. Green is attempting to right that by creating a definitive sequel that continues the story some 50 years later and brings legacy characters back into the fold. Unlike Halloween, however, The Exorcist: Believer feels less like a natural continuation of the story and more like a tired cash grab with beloved characters shoehorned into a story that brings nothing new to the orginal's legacy.

The Exorcist: Believer follows a father (Leslie Odom Jr.) whose wife is killed in an earthquake in Haiti in 2010, leaving him to raise their unborn daughter on his own. But when she attempts to contact her mother from beyond the grave, she invites in a demon that possesses both her and her best friend, leading him to seek out the expertise of Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), now estranged from her daughter, Regan, after their exorcism ordeal decades before. 

The original Exorcist remains so indelible because it felt monumental, every frame seemingly infused with a sense of evil that almost feels burned into the celluloid. Believer has no such feeling of dread and unease - William Friedken's striking visual palate is completely missing is completely missing here. It's just another bland exorcism movie that only feels connected to the original film by the presence of Ellen Burstyn, who only returned by demanding a huge fee that was used to create a scholarship for young artists at Pace University (which may prove to be one the one good thing to come from this film).

The whole thing just feels deeply pointless. It not only feels stylistically removed from its predecessor, it's also just plain dull. The final exorcism feels rote and anticlimactic, and doesn't feature anything remotely as harrowing as what we witness in Friedkin's original. The result is something that feels neutered of its power, banking on nostalgia to mask a weak-kneed retread that's never able to justify its own reason for being. Even its lovely final moments can't make up for the banal slog you have to get through to reach them. The Exorcist remains a film for which the franchise treatment remains both elusive and unnecessary.

GRADE - ★★ (out of four)

THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER | Directed by David Gordon Green | Stars Leslie Odom Jr., Ann Dowd, Ellen Burstyn, Jennifer Nettles, Norbert Leo Butz, Olivia Marcum | Rated R for some violent content, disturbing images, language and sexual references | Now playing in theaters everywhere.


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