After five decades since the original Exorcist movie mesmerized audiences, a new one has bit the big screen—The Exorcist: Believer. This film, directed by David Gordon Green, stands as a direct sequel to the beloved classic.
The Exorcist: Believer begins by transporting viewers to Haiti, where we are introduced to Victor Fielding (played by Leslie Odom Jr.) and his expectant wife. Tragically, fate deals a cruel hand as Haiti is gripped by a devastating earthquake, snatching away Victor’s beloved wife. Yet, amidst the indescribable grief and loss, their daughter, Angela, survives the cataclysmic event.
Fast forward twelve years, and we find ourselves in the present, witnessing the intertwined lives of Victor and Angela. Angela, longing to connect with her deceased mother, asks her father if she can hang out with her friend Katherine to do homework. Despite his hesitations, Victor agrees. However, instead of doing homework, Angela ventures into the woods with Katherine hoping to connect with her mother. Their ordinary lives end up taking a dark turn when their family finds that they have mysteriously vanished into the foreboding depths of the woods. Three agonizing days pass until, by some unfathomable providence, the two lost girls are discovered, but they have no recollection of what transpired during their disappearance.
As their families rejoice in their return, it becomes evident that something far more nefarious has followed them back from the shadows, as their behavior inexplicably takes a disconcerting turn toward the immoral. Secrets begin to unravel, unsettling occurrences unfold, and the once-peaceful abode becomes steeped in malevolence. The families, now confronted with an unspeakable evil, must summon every ounce of courage and confront the darkness that has insidiously infiltrated their lives.
The Exorcist: Believer takes a different approach from the original 1973 film, diving fairly quickly into the action of Angela and Katherine’s mysterious disappearance. Unlike the rather slow-paced beginning of the classic, this sequel wastes no time in getting the story moving.
The fast pace of the film may initially enhance immediate intrigue, but it comes at the expense of character development. We catch a glimpse of who Victor is from the opening act, which showcases his firm yet vibrant personality through his interactions with his now-deceased wife and Angela. We also catch a glimpse of Angela’s fun-loving personality through her interactions with her father. However, while these initial nuances give us a sense of the characters, there is a lack of further development. As for Katherine and her family, we really don’t know much about any of them as the movie fails to explore their characters. In contrast to the original, this film does not dedicate the necessary time to create complex and well-rounded characters.
The film’s approach, although appreciated for its action-packed nature, leaves a sense of dissatisfaction for those seeking deeply defined characters and complex characterization. The lack of depth creates a distinct polarity to the original, which was able to create deeply human and multilayered characters. This noticeable difference can leave a feeling of longing and a desire for further character development to make them realistically three-dimensional and engaging for the audience.
Nevertheless, I found the storyline itself to be compelling. The concept of the girls vanishing into the woods only to return transformed adds a chilling layer to the possession narrative. In fact, I found The Exorcist: Believer to be more terrifying overall than its predecessor. While the 1973 film may be considered the most terrifying movie of all time, I disagree. It may have been so for its time, but I don’t think that stands true by today’s standards. The original definitely had disturbing moments and creepy imagery, but the impact may not be as potent for modern audiences. The Exorcist: Believer, on the other hand, effectively plays on psychological horror, creating an unsettling atmosphere without relying solely on jump scares.
Moreover, the performances in The Exorcist: Believer are commendable. The cast delivers believable portrayals, with notable performances from the actors who play Angela, Katherine, and Victor. Their performances help to elevate the tension and make the supernatural elements feel more real and unsettling.
In terms of sound design, the film diligently uses sound effects and a haunting musical score to immerse the audience in its creepy world. The eerie noises, suspenseful music, and distorted voices during the possession scenes add to the overall sense of dread and unease.
It is clear that the movie takes inspiration from the original, highlighting the idea that good does not always triumph. However, apart from a cameo by Chris MacNeil (played by Ellen Burstyn), there is little connection to the original. Though her appearance is a nice tribute, it ultimately serves no purpose in the story.
The Exorcist: Believer went wrong by being an unnecessary addition to the Exorcist franchise. By associating itself with such a beloved classic, it opened itself to inevitable comparisons. This association proved to be a disservice to the film as it struggles to live up to the original’s legacy. Perhaps the movie would have benefitted—at least in regards to audience ratings—by being presented as a standalone movie disconnected from the Exorcist franchise. Framing it as a standalone movie may have allowed it to shine on its own merits.
Despite its flaws and heavy criticism from critics, The Exorcist: Believer is not a bad movie. It falls short in terms of character development, includes some nonessential scenes that do not contribute to the plot, and may not reach the same heights as the original, but it offers a fairly interesting story and a decent horror experience, just not on the same level as other possession horrors like The Conjuring.
The Exorcist: Believer is in theaters beginning October 6. The movie is rated R.