What would you do for a friend? How far would you go for them? What if they were possessed by a demon? Those are the questions presented to us by My Best Friend’s Exorcism, the 2022 film adaptation based on the 2014 novel of the same name (reviewed here), authored by Grady Hendrix.
After an acid-fuelled girls’ night in the woods, Abby (Elsie Fisher) has reason to believe that her best friend, Gretchen (Amiah Miller), has become possessed by a demon. With their friend group, which includes Glee (Cathy Ang) and Margaret (Rachel Ogechi Kanu), Abby finds herself the only one standing to help Gretchen be free.
Right off the bat, the film does a commendable effort recreating a retro mood with era-accurate hair, references, and music. There are even those old-timey, transparent telephones! It felt like no detail was spared from making the film’s world seem like we’re looking into 1988 while it is still fresh and vibrant. However, what truly anchors the film for me are the performances by Elsie Fisher and Amiah Miller who are both likeable as the leads. As someone who has read the book and loved it, it’s important for me to see that these characters and their story be brought to life in a manner that feels respectful and faithful to the story that Mr. Hendrix has set up. For the most part, the adaptation of the story is effective, but it’s the fundamental portrayal of Abby and Gretchen’s friendship which could make or break the film for me.
I wish the novel could be adapted word-for-word and page-by-page, but I also understand the constraints of a 96-minute runtime: not everything is going to make it in there and not everything that does will remain purely intact. There were direct lines from the book that I really wanted to be in the film, but it became clear soon enough that the film was going to be doing its own thing and not directly ape the source material, which I think helps the film stand on its own. After all, I think the film should stand on its own and have its own independent value instead of being completely tied down by the book.
For instance, in the book, I felt that Abby’s relationships with Glee and Margaret was more acidic. You sincerely felt that it was only a friendship of convenience, and not something born out of natural, healthy bonding. In the film, however, I felt a bit more sympathetic towards Glee and Margaret. The actors playing them do hit the beats that make these characters an extra challenge that Abby must overcome, yet we also get to see the challenges that these characters have to go through that viewers can find relatable.
Still, with the movie differences from the book, I think it does strike a balance of being a reasonable adaptation and expressing itself as separate. The major beats of the novel remain intact, but where our characters ultimately end up is different. This comes with several plot points that unfortunately had to be cut down, which I did want to see onscreen. The class divide between Gretchen and Abby was prevalent and apparent in the book, but I felt like this was barely touched on in the film. Some relationships are also switched around in the film, which cuts down the relevance of certain characters to the plot. However, this does open up a new aspect of a certain character to grow. Ultimately, I had imagined the characters differently when I read the book, but their portrayals in the film feel just right.
An aspect I liked about the book is the seamless transitions between horror and humor, which I think My Best Friend’s Exorcism implements well as a movie. The film does a great job of being vibrant and colorful, and showing the light-hearted hijinks that could go on in such a world. When things take a dark turn, the color palette doesn’t change, which evokes a degree of dissonance that made these scenes delivering similar effects to those in the book. Additionally, the soundtrack hits all those prerequisite ’80s earworms, but the film also has its own synth score that’s delicious and feels like home. Your boy is a sucker for synth!
What I wasn’t a big fan of is the condensation of the story. As I mentioned earlier, I respect there had to be cuts and changes to make the film stand, but I could have tolerated a 2-hour version of the movie if it meant we could decrease the pace. At times, the plot felt like it was moving too rapidly for my liking. The consequence is that certain major plot developments feel like they’re just being glossed over instead of giving weight to them, such as the tackling of relevant teenage topics like body issues, obsessive crushes, the earlier-mentioned class divide that informs social hierarchy and how this is disrupted by Gretchen and Abby’s friendship even existing, drug abuse, assault, etc. These things are subtly addressed in the film, but I think they could have used more significant attention instead of a fleeting mention.
I think the changeup with how the story ends is something that could have been improved on. I loved that, like in the book, it’s the power of friendship that is weaponized to fight the demon during the titular exorcism. However, this aspect is diminished with the add-ons to the ending during the film version. This was one of the instances where I felt like the taking the quotes directly from the book would have worked effectively, yet I understand that this can only work if the references in these lines were developed in earlier scenes. Serving a condensed plot with some aspects removed, however, meant that the crucial lines from the book during the exorcism cannot be used without the proper context being set up. In turn, the actual climax of the film feels very cinematic, and it is exciting largely because we’re rooting for Fisher and Miller’s depictions of these characters.
Overall, what do I think of My Best Friend’s Exorcism as a film adaptation and as its own creative form? On one hand, I feel like it is missing some key factors that make this story standout from just being a story about possessed teenagers, and it is fast paced in areas that need to take it slow at to allow the audience to chew on the gravity of the film’s events. On the other hand, Elsie Fisher and Amiah Miller deliver believable characters that you want to root for with great chemistry, and the film often succeeds in slipping and sliding between the humorous aspects of the plot as well as the dark parts of it. Taking into consideration what I didn’t like about the film, I’d say the vibes, the characters, and the music helped me sail through this and have a good time.
Catch My Best Friend’s Exorcism to stream on Amazon!
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Dustin is a horror fan and sometimes short story writer who hails from the Philippines. He likes a lot of the horror genre but usually goes for slashers and arthouse/slowburn stuff. Currently, he’s trying to make up for lost time in the horror literature world by digesting as many horror books as he can.