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Pru’s boo reviews: ‘The Exorcist: Believer’

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Rian Hughes

Three major events happened in the world of “The Exorcist” this year. 

First, and most notably, the great director William Friedkin passed away in August.

Friedkin was responsible for the original “Exorcist” film, and his unique cinematic influence is still felt in horror and thriller flicks today.

Second, Friedkin’s legacy is especially impressive considering “The Exorcist” celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The twisted tale of two priests attempting to save the soul of a young girl has endured for half a century, and its special effects, performances and themes are just as chilling today as they were in 1973. 

Last, and certainly least, was this month’s release of “The Exorcist: Believer.” David Gordon Green, most infamous for his trilogy of “Halloween” sequels in recent years, has now turned to the “Exorcist” franchise with a direct sequel to the original film. If only Universal Pictures had put their faith in a different director. Green’s “Believer” is an embarrassment of a sequel, especially in light of the original’s anniversary and Friedkin’s passing.

“Believer” mirrors the basic structure of “The Exorcist.” It opens in a foreign country, trading the Middle East for Haiti. It focuses on a single parent, played here by Leslie Odom Jr., caring for a possessed child. And the film climaxes with an exorcism. However, “Believer” doubles down on the series formula. Instead of one child possessed, there’s two. Rather than an archeological site, the film opens with an earthquake. Then there’s the exorcism itself.

Green’s interesting idea for his “Exorcist” film is to update the idea of two Catholic priests battling a demon to a cornucopia of world religion. Unfortunately, the result is what feels like the “Exorcist” Avengers assembling. The exorcism room is full to bursting with an atheist, a Baptist pastor, a Pentecostal preacher, a Hoodoo practitioner, a once-aspiring nun and scared parents. However, what could have been a compelling story of universal evil is instead universally silly. The sequence is long and filled with clichéd dialogue. Despite the large group of characters in the room, no one but Odom Jr. and Ann Dowd as the failed nun feel like real people. Every other character is defeated by the script’s shortcomings, no matter if the exorcism itself was successful.

The sole strengths of the film lay in Odom Jr.’s performance and the early stages of his daughter’s possession. Odom Jr. embodies a father terrified by his child, and watching their bond tested by a demonic presence is heart wrenching. Green also succeeds in making the girls’ possessions disgusting, with bleeding toes and cut-up faces to spare. However, mere gore alone isn’t shocking in an era where even a prestige television show might feature brutal and explicit violence. Part of what made Friedkin’s “Exorcist” so terrifying was its use of practical special effects, which remain to be uniquely disturbing considering what could be accomplished in 1973. Compared to the risks that “The Exorcist” took depicting something shocking and new 50 years ago, “Believer” feels run-of-the-mill.

In fact, that’s the main problem with “The Exorcist: Believer.” The film isn’t meaningfully referential or respectfully adherent towards its source material. Green’s movie is a generic exorcism flick. It’s not “The Exorcist.” Even the film’s inclusion of a 90-year-old Ellen Burstyn, reprising her role as Chris MacNeil, is meaningless in Green’s hands. Burstyn is uselessly relegated to a hospital bed for much of the movie, including its climax, and mostly serves as an exposition machine when she is on her feet. The move echoes the fate Green chose to exact on another iconic horror heroine, Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode in “Halloween Kills,” which also relegates its leading lady to a hospital bed and raises questions of why Green is drawn to this material at all. Why make another “Exorcist” film if it’s going to be exorcised of everything that made the original work in the first place?

“The Exorcist: Believer” is the first of three new “Exorcist” sequels. The second, “The Exorcist: Deceiver,” is reportedly set to be released April 18, 2025. However, if you’ve already lost your faith in these new installments, you aren’t alone. Green’s first effort certainly hasn’t made me a believer.

 

Rating: 2/5 Yosefs

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About the Contributors
Pruett Norris
Pruett Norris, Multimedia Editor
Pruett Norris (he/him) is a senior double majoring in English with a concentration in Film Studies and Electronic Media/Broadcasting. This is his second year with The Appalachian.
Kaitlyn Close
Kaitlyn Close, Graphics Editor
Kaitlyn Close (she/her) is a senior Graphic Design major and Digital Marketing minor. This is her second year with The Appalachian.
Rian Hughes
Rian Hughes, Associate Graphics Editor
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