It’s hard to understate how important a movie The Exorcist is. It is one of the most effective and influential movies of all time. I would say the hype isn’t unjustified. It changed horror as we know it, and if you want to look at how modern horror works, you turn back to The Exorcist and Halloween.
There are two issues that I have with the Exorcist franchise, however. The first is that it gave way to every other terrible exorcist film that didn’t understand what made that film work, and that it empowered an industry that preys on people with several mental vulnerabilities and will often exacerbate their issues. I don’t blame the filmmakers for this.
The other is that The Exorcist shouldn’t be a franchise. It’s a very strong three-act structure and it does an excellent job of building tension and making you wonder what is going to happen next. By the time that you get through these films, the returns get more and more diminishing. Out of all of the sequels and prequels, the only one that I can state that I actually like is Exorcist 3, and that’s because it at least has an interesting idea.
Exorcist: Believer didn’t fill me with great expectations when I saw the trailer for it, and I’m not going to lie, it’s a bit of a hot mess. The basic premise is that it’s about two girls who wander off by themselves after school, go missing with no memories of what happened during the period of them being missing, then they become obviously possessed by a demon and an exorcist is required. It plays a lot of imagery to invoke the original, and for some reason, Regan’s mother (once again, played by Ellen Burstyn) is here to aid with it.
It’s very simple in its premise, and a lot of this film really reminded me of the recent Halloween trilogy, particularly the first movie in that series. Get legacy characters back to reprise roles, and use lots of imagery to remind you of the original, even the camera shots are similar! Then I saw that it was David Greene who directed the Halloween trilogy and also directed this as well. While I think that Greene was right to direct those, since I actually liked the first two, I don’t think that he was the right person to do a legacy sequel to The Exorcist.
One of the big issues that a lot of people had with the Halloween movies was that they didn’t really have a lot of new ideas, and when they did, they weren’t always successful. That problem is really prevalent here in The Exorcist Believer, it has no concept of anything new to do and it really invites comparison with the first movie constantly. It’s not very good at doing it, and it doesn’t quite get why something worked in the original movie. For one thing, the tension was built up in the original movie because you had no idea what was going on and the film was quite tame, so it meant that whenever they actually went to something extremely mad like the head-turning round, the green vomit, or Regan going down the stairs backwards on her hands and feet, it stuck out more and it meant that the imagery of something like the flashing image of the demons will stay in your head. This film doesn’t have anything like that, it’s all about the idea of ‘here’s this thing, and we’re going to explain to you exactly what’s happened, and the demons are constantly trying to do something completely outrageous’.
I would also like to point out that this film really relies on jumpscares, which is not something I think that they should have done, and only one of them was effective in my opinion.
The dialogue in this movie is terrible. I have no idea why Ellen Burstyn is back- despite what the marketing will tell you, she’s barely in this movie. I’m glad that part of her fee for being in this movie was a scholarship for young actors, but seriously, what the hell with the lack of her in this movie? It teeters on false advertising. She doesn’t really get much to do when she’s there, which is a shame, because this is the only time that people have been able to tempt her back into the franchise.
There are also times in the dialogue which really reminded me of those PureFlix films (if you don’t know who they are, they’re the people who make a lot of those God’s Not Dead movies, and if you don’t know what that is, I envy you and your untainted Youtube recommendations). Religion obviously played a theme in the original movie, there was no getting around that considering that it was about a Catholic priest performing an exorcism, but in that case, when there was religious theming, it was actually kept for character development and it never felt like it could have been put into a right-wing Christian propaganda movie… In this case, you could easily substitute some of the lines into a different movie that are completely out of place.
When the exorcism finally happens, there are so many people performing it that it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on, and none of it evokes the same atmosphere, which is a shame because most of the actors that are in this movie are really good, but the script fails them.
The Exorcist: Believer is a dog’s dinner of a movie, which fails to capture the spirit of the original. It’s a real mess, the performances are let down by a bad script and it doesn’t create the same tension that the original achieved. This further supports my point that The Exorcist should never have been made into a franchise. I paid extra to see this in IMAX, which did not benefit the film in almost any way- I really don’t understand why it was even shot for IMAX.
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