Is The Exorcist: Believer an uninspired homage, a sincere sequel, neither, or more? Depends on your expectations for it.
The Exorcist: Believer Synopsis
A fun afternoon in the woods for Angela and Catherine ends with the teenagers vanishing for three days and returning with more than themselves. Spooked by his daughter’s increasingly violent behaviour, Angela’s dad Victor is soon convinced that the transformation is supernatural rather than psychological. His desperate quest for help then leads him to Chris MacNeil, the traumatised mother of Regan MacNeil from the 1973 movie.
Whatever you love or loathe it, you cannot deny the following statements about the legendary The Exorcist (1973). It is a cinematic classic. It is a horror movie milestone. It is also a storytelling gemstone that redefined the world’s understanding of the horror movie genre.
I have never reviewed my all-time favourite scary movie; I don’t see what else I can say that’s not been said. But referenced William Friedkin’s magnum opus I certainly did many times over the years, whether in humourous articles, movie listicles, or mythological write-ups.
It’s just so convenient, you see. You can almost completely be sure your audience will immediately grasp the naughtiness you’re implying. The movie is that legendary/notorious.
The Exorcist is moreover, IMO, a yardstick against which social climates can be measured. Its release date was at the height of an era synonymous with social change and the rejection of traditional taboos. The movie’s very chequered history and reception over 50 years is also strongly indicative of how much global audiences have changed. This, in turn, further enshrines The Exorcist’s fabled status.
What I’m putting forward here: The very first horror movie to be nominated for an Oscar goes way beyond cinematic accomplishment. It is a 50-year-old social phenomenon that’s still in the making. For that reason, I watched The Exorcist: Believer yesterday with loads of fanboy excitement but no expectations at all. I simply don’t think any sequel or reboot will ever live up to or even come near to the ’73 original, not unless you give it half a century of cultural conditioning.
This mentality worked. Can’t say I ended up feeling David Gordon Green’s reboot/sequel is marvellous; nope, nowhere near that. But satiated as a long-time fan of the stumbling franchise, I was. I was at least thrilled enough to cheer when Linda finally made an appearance. (I invited so many stares …)
To elaborate, it’s seriously not hard to find things to love about this sequel; you really just need to temper expectations. (Or the inclination to condemn). The quiet first arc is effectively brooding and sinister, an almost religious homage to Friedkin’s silently threatening style too with its use of jarring interludes and, ahem, demonic face flashes. There’s also Leslie Odom Jr.’s stoic, restrained performance. A great example of how quiet stares and words can convey more parental pain than screams and howls ever would.
The extended, socially-polite exorcism in the final third made me recall The Exorcist III controversy, and yup, that immediately turned me off. Doubly so minutes later with all the socio-religious proclamations about love and working together and what have you; I snorted like Pazuzu. But to the movie’s credit, the nasty twists towards the end return the show to the pessimism the franchise is representative of. Besides, it would be really unfair for me to say the exorcism is without action.
I reiterate. I didn’t walk out of the cinema thinking The Exorcist: Believer is a superb sequel. Actually, why is it even a sequel? Ellen Burstyn’s role in the story is meaningless, beyond an overt commercial attempt to milk the fandom.
But I did enjoy the movie and I hope Green’s dream of a new trilogy comes to fruition. The man didn’t quite succeed with the new Halloween Trilogy but it was, to me, at least an earnest attempt at celebrating and expanding a classic. The same feels to be happening with this new trilogy.
By the way, acting is one area that I think no one will have issues with. Child prodigies aren’t quite the miracles they were once thought of as, especially when you have references like Linda Blair, but young Lidya Jewett and Olivia Marcum still deserve heaps of praise. Let’s put it this way. I’m sure Pazuzu himself would approve of their gleeful interpretations.
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