Widely accepted as “the scariest film of all time”, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) has stood the test of time and will probably be talked about until the very end of it. Whether or not you agree that the film is indeed the scariest of all time, it has still managed to cement its reputation outside of and within the horror community through word of mouth, documentaries, countless references in other media—both comical and serious—imitations, etc.

The decision to make a direct sequel to Friedkin’s original film years after its initial release might have been more astonishing to us film fanatics had we not already been inured to the seemingly oncoming trend—David Gordon Green’s Halloween (2018) trilogy also served as direct sequels to John Carpenter’s original film, and Netflix’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) did something similar by bringing back the franchise’s legacy character Sally Hardesty. (Not to mention Fox’s The Exorcist TV series which was also technically a legacy sequel, but let’s not go too far down the rabbit hole.)


Coincidentally, David Gordon Green is also the man behind the camera for The Exorcist: Believer; Blumhouse’s latest attempt to jump-start another trilogy after Universal reportedly paid $400 million for the rights to the franchise back in 2021. With Green’s Halloween Ends (2022) having received an extremely divisive reception, many were skeptical of his ability to both honor and bring something new to the altar table that we’re all so well-acquainted with.

Since the death of his pregnant wife in a Haitian earthquake 12 years ago, Victor Fielding has raised their daughter, Angela on his own. But when Angela and her friend Katherine disappear in the woods, only to return three days later with no memory of what happened to them, it unleashes a chain of events that will force Victor to confront the nadir of evil and, in his terror and desperation, seek out the only person alive who has witnessed anything like it before – Chris MacNeil.

The Exorcist: Believer starts off incredibly strong; the opening in Haiti sets up a solid foundation for our lead character and places us right at the core of his emotional trauma, allowing us to see what makes him tick early on. A neurotic protagonist with a troubled past is a trope that often accompanies a horror flick, but it has proven effective time and time again. Here, the trope is proven effective once more as I found Victor, played exceptionally well by actor Leslie Odom Jr., to be incredibly endearing. His relationship with his daughter Angela, played by actress Lidya Jewett, is portrayed as unfeigned through their actions and facial expressions as opposed to through exposition.

When Angela and Katherine go missing, you can really see it take a toll on Victor. Of course, this affects Katherine’s parentsMiranda and Tonyas well, but the film focuses more so on the Fielding family. David Gordon Green uses this first act to establish the theme of communities coming togethernot unlike his efforts in 2021’s Halloween Killsbut never seems to completely drive the message home. Having lost his faith in God since his wife’s death, Victor’s spiritual beliefs are a direct dichotomy against Miranda and Toby’s Baptist traditions, but there is rarely any conflict regarding this fact to help strengthen the drama. I do wish they would have spent more time demonstrating the different dynamics of each family, but the runtime needed to make room for another presumably pivotal character.


It pains me to say that the film lost a bit of its momentum for me when Chris MacNeil, Regan’s mother in the original film played by Ellen Burstyn, is dragged into the narrative. Burstyn reportedly declined numerous monetary offers to reprise her role as Chris MacNeil and only agreed to return if the studio offered a scholarship program for talented students at Pace University. (Bless her heart!) Upon reading about this, I assumed that Green had a fastidious plan for her character arc, but alas, this was not the case. In fact, Burstyn had very little to do in The Exorcist: Believer, serving instead as a facile way to tie the plot to the original film. And, well, fan service. I would be lying if I said that fan service doesn’t excite me every so often, but the film was lacking in other areas that I personally found vital to my overall enjoyment.

The expectations that come with doing a legacy sequel to “the scariest film of all time” should be illustrious to any filmmaker or studio that decides to take on the mantle. David Gordon Green is no exception. With that said, I felt that Green played it way too safe when it came to the scare factor. The film has a number of competently eerie sequencessome of which have been left on the cutting room floor, existing only in the trailerbut it never attempts to fiddle with the shock value that one would expect. One could argue that it is unfair to hold such expectations against a filmmaker and anticipate the delivery of what every single fan wants, and I would agree to some extent. Green was never going to please everyone, and I respect his decision to take on the daunting task of working on a project that was sure to receive a discordant reception. However, when the reputation of the film you are honoring is as gargantuan as The Exorcist, I believe more effort is warranted.


That’s not to say that this was a low-effort feat; the foreboding atmosphere of the first act was wonderfully executed, the practical make-up used to transform the young possessed girls looked as good as one would hope, and the performances from the cast were solid. The main thing that deterred me from a fully satisfying experience was the film’s inefficacy to fully explore its ideas. Forcing characters with different religious beliefs to work together, introducing the plan to utilize other cultural methods of exorcism, and bringing back a legacy character to provide some insight into the situation at hand; all of these ideas sound incredibly appealing to me personally, but they are merely grazed by a bullet that narrowly misses the mark. The intention of The Exorcist: Believer is difficult for me to decipher; it’s not particularly startling and doesn’t really delve into the lore of the original, but it successfully modernizes the sub-genre and opens the door for more to be explored.

Incidentally, two more sequels are already in the works, with David Gordon Green tentative to return. The devil never gives up, as stated in this film, but neither does Hollywood.


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