The Exorcist: Believer
Some decent scares and special effects in this reboot/sequel to possibly the scariest movie of all time, though don't blink or you might miss Ellen Burstyn.
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I was very excited for “The Exorcist: Believer,” a reboot/sequel to arguably the scariest movie ever made. (You can argue, but you’d be wrong.) I’m a sucker for demonic possession movies in general, and I liked the idea of there being not one but two teen girls with spooky eyes and cut-up faces thrashing around and bass moaning.
What can I say, I have odd predilections. Plus, the return of original star Ellen Burstyn was a welcome sight. She’s having something of a late-late-career renaissance.
The movie is sufficiently creepy, and brings a few modern notes to the familiar theme of priests working to get Ol’ Scratch to leave the bodies of the possessed. It does get a little draggy in the middle, though.
Oh, and don’t blink, or you might miss Burstyn. She reprises her character of Chris MacNeil, mother of the original possessee, now brought in as an expert to advise the parents of the two girls. But it’s basically just a glorified cameo, not appearing until a full hour in and then getting quickly benched, except for a brief fan-servicing kicker at the end.
Lidya Jewett and Olivia Marcum star as the girls, Angela and Katherine, respectively, best buds who disappear into the woods after school in Percy, Ga., one day to do some forbidden spirit-seeking stuff. Angela’s mother died in childbirth, and her relationship with her dad, Victor (Leslie Odom Jr.) is loving but there’s a space between them. So she tries to reach out to from the great beyond.
Victor and the authorities search frantically along with Katherine’s parents, well-to-do Bible-thumpers (Jennifer Nettles and Norbert Leo Butz ) who go to one of those big-box churches. Victor’s a non-believer, due in no small part to the tragic events that claimed his wife’s life, so there’s some friction between them, plus some hinted-at racial tension.
Eventually the girls do turn up, 30 miles away with their feet and legs all cut up, with no memory of what happened to them. At the hospital they are cared for Ann (the great Ann Dowd), Victor’s next-door neighbor, a nurse with an attitude problem. She is astonished when Angela, in an early croaking delirium, says something about Ann she has never told anyone.
Katherine makes a huge scene at their church in front of their pastor, Don (Raphael Sbarge), who looks and kind of acts like a smarmy televangelist. There’s some sly humor in that the girls’ behavior initially resembles normal teenage snottiness.
But soon they’re rolling on the floor and doing that vocal-fry-from-hell thing, so a religious reckoning is due.
What’s interesting is that when it comes time for the actual exorcism, it’s not just a Roman Catholic priest doing the work but several people from different spiritual faith traditions. Katherine’s pastor, despite seeming like kind of a twerp, comes through in a way we don’t expect.
Ann’s there and another neighbor, Stuart (Danny McCarthy), a boxing partner of Victor’s who is from the more rolly end of Christianity, is too. They also bring in Dr. Beehibe (Okwui Okpokwasili), who has backgrounds in both Western medicine and her native African religion mixed in with some druidic-type root medicine.
Father Maddox (E.J. Bonilla), a Catholic priest, appeals to the church for a seasoned exorcist to be sent, but we’ll see what happens.
Things play out about as expected during the ritual, with the different religious figures speaking their own cants and prayers, each trying different things out to see what works. There will be brimstone smoke and light shows and, of course, the iconic sputum out of babes’ mouths.
Director David Gordon Green, who co-wrote the script with Peter Sattler from a story that was also contributed to by Scott Teems and Danny McBride, knows the tropes of horror well having directed the three most recent “Halloween” films. I guess he’s hoping to revive another dusty franchise, with reports of a planned trilogy.
This movie is essentially a direct sequel to the original 1973 one, retconning away the four others in between, which were best left forgotten anyway.
There are a few obligatory jump-scares, though Green and his crew don’t overly rely on them, more punctuation notes in a forbidding layering of dread. The second act could definitely have used some judicious pruning in the editing bay.
It pains me to say it, but Burstyn’s character is so inconsequential to the story that it probably would have been better to just cut her out entirely. She’s trotted out for nostalgia and then an encore that feels cheap and easy.
“The Exorcist: Believer” is a pale shadow of the original, but it possesses enough of its macabre charms to get the job done.