The Exorcist: Believer (2023) | Review

The Devil has always craved young, vulnerable victims, and now, fifty years after tearing Regan MacNeil’s soul apart, he’s got his fiery eyes set on a two-fer. Sixth-grader Angela Fielding (Lidya Jewett) and her no-last-name classmate Katherine (Olivia O’Neill) are lured into the woods after school one afternoon by an unseen force and don’t turn up again until three days later (hello, Lazarus!). When they are finally found, they seem… different. As well they should; they’re in The Exorcist: Believer, after all!

Director David Gordon Green, who brought horror fans the Halloween franchise reboot, does his best to resurrect The Exorcist, which is indeed half a century old now. Only two direct sequels followed: The Heretic in 1977, and The Exorcist III in 1990. Renny Harlin and Paul Schrader each helmed Exorcist prequels in 2004 and 2005, respectively, but audiences were not feeling the Hades heat. Is now the time for end-of-times? Only time will tell. (However, The Exorcist: Deceiver is already greenlit for 2025.)

In the plus column, The Exorcist: Believer is not a remake. It does call back to the 1973 original with a cameo from Ellen Burstyn, who played Regan’s mom, Chris MacNeil. She’s now quite elderly, estranged from her daughter, and the author of a book on their battle with the ultimate evil. Angela’s single dad, Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom, Jr.), is the one who seeks out her expert advice, while Katherine’s more pious parents try to “pray away” the possession.

In the minus column, there’s a long backstory on the childbirth-related demise of Angela’s mom. The opening sequence shows how she was caught in an earthquake in Haiti, which affected her pregnancy and ultimately killed her—there’s nothing very scary here… no voodoo or Satanic shenanigans at work. What’s more, the cast is legion; having so many characters on camera definitely dilutes the fear-focus. We’ve got two possessed tweens, their families, doctors, detectives, Chris MacNeil, the clergy, spiritual cleansers, concerned neighbors, and more. The script is also rather heavy-handed in its desire to be politically correct, even going so far as to retroactively blame “the patriarchy” as to why Regan’s mom didn’t witness the exorcism back in 1973. What’s more, she is relegated to a hospital bed for most of the movie (much like the director did with Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween Kills in 2021).

When it comes to cringe moments (the good kind), there are a few. Angela and Katherine both have blistery skin conditions, milky eyes, and their fingernails and toenails fall off, leaving tendrils of sticky goo. They speak in demonic tongues, there’s a blasphemous moment in church involving self-gratification, and they move with preternatural speed. As for callbacks to the original—necks twist, and there’s projectile vomit (but it isn’t of the green pea soup variety). The most affecting scene, for me anyway, takes place shortly after the girls were found following their three-day disappearance and are being examined in the hospital.

The Exorcist: Believer will probably appeal more to spooky-season moviegoers who haven’t seen, or don’t have reverence for, the 1973 original. The flick does have its share of eerie moments and gore, but it’s always a thankless job to try to recreate the magic, shock, and awe of a classic film (even when it’s not a remake). After all, The Exorcist shattered box office records and earned 10 Academy Award® nominations, becoming the first horror movie ever nominated for Best Picture. I can predict with confidence that that’s not going to happen with The Exorcist: Believer, but it’s worth a look on the big screen.

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