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The Exorcist: Believer

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

Powerful and disturbing, but feeling incomplete, THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER is a very good, but not great, sequel to William Friedkin's original masterpiece.

The first hour of the film is closest in feel and dread to Friedkin. It's obvious that Writer/Director David Gordon Green is a student of the original classic, bringing a true homage feel to the slowly building tension of the film's first half.

In the opening sequence in Haiti we meet photographer Victor Fielding (the terrific Leslie Odom Jr. from "Hamilton") and his very pregnant wife Sorenne (Tracey Graves). When a massive earthquake hits, Victor is forced to make an agonizing choice to save his wife or unborn daughter.

Flash forward 13 years and Victor is a widowed dad raising 13 year old Angela (Lidya Jewett from "Hidden Figures). They are close, but Dad may be a bit overprotective. He tells Angela that yes, she can spend study time after school with her friend Katherine (newcomer Olivia O'Neill).

But Angela and Katherine aren't going to study. They're heading off into the nearby woods for some harmless teenage fun, including (oops) an attempt to communicate with Angela's long dead mother.

The girls don't come home that night.

Victor is beside himself, on an all out quest to find Angela. He meets Katherine's parents Tony (Norbert Leo Butz) and Miranda (Jennifer Nettles). They are deeply religious and surrounded by the church, while Victor seems nearly alone. Only Victor's next door neighbor, nurse Ann (Ann Dowd) and his boxing buddy Stuart (Danny McCarthy) seem to be in his circle.

When the girls do turn up three days later, they are not themselves.

Green creates the same parental fear in your gut that Friedkin did when Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) watched young Regan (Linda Blair) go through test after test to find out what was physically wrong with her.

After everything physically checks out with Angela and Katherine, they are sent back home to recover.

Green plays with spatial awareness and lots of dark corners to create a tense sequence in which Angela goes off the rails.

One of the best scenes in the film is Katherine's return to church with her family. She starts the service, a little off. Things go so wrong in so many ways and you can't look away. The quietest moments of her young brother and sisters watching what she's doing in the pew are some of the most true and terrifying moments of the scene.

The girls are whisked back into the hospital and start displaying escalating disturbing behaviors.

And this is where Green's film begins to go slightly askew.

I kept raising an eyebrow, feeling like a ten minute sequence had ended up on the editing room floor.

All too quickly, Victor makes the leap to meeting with Chris MacNeil, 50 years after the events of the first film. She's written a book about her experience that ties all too closely to what Victor is seeing in his daughter.

Ellen Burstyn, now 90, returns in her iconic role and she is terrific. She and Odom are excellent together and she brings class and legacy to the film. Chris and Victor head off to meet Angela and then go to see Katherine, who's gone back home to be with her family. Bad idea.

LOVED this entire sequence. It's got the creep factor exactly right as the demon inside Katherine clearly remembers Chris and her daughter Regan. The demon voices pouring out of Katherine are just as terrifying as you remember.

Then the film barrels forward toward its conclusion, with a United Nations full of global religions clumsily brought together to battle the demon inside the two girls.

Strapped into back-to-back chairs in the living room of Victor's home, an attempted exorcism takes up the final 25 minutes of the film.

Is it pretty damn intense? Yes.

Is it scary? I guess, but not nearly as scary as similar scenes in "The Conjuring" and nowhere near as terrifying as Max Von Sydow and Jason Miller battling Pazuzu in the original film 50 years ago.

The special effects and sound mix are undoubtedly better here.

The two young actresses are excellent and their moments of clarity away from the demon are powerful.

I'm not going to argue that my brothers and I were all on the edge of our seat.

But we were hoping for terrifying, and walked away with scary instead.

This is the first entry in Green's planned Exorcist trilogy. Universal paid $400 million for the rights to make the three films.

The final scene of the film is a surprise and its enjoyable, but where the second film goes from here is a total mystery. Without an obvious cliffhanger, I'm curious to see where Green takes it next.

Fans of the original will find many, many references to Friedkin's masterwork. The fighting, barking dogs in Haiti, the font and style of the titles throughout and of course a very creepy score by David Wingo and Amman Abbasi that references Tubular Bells in very creative ways. Their score during the exorcism sequence adds considerably to the creep.

If you're looking for green vomit, levitation and spinning heads, your dance card will be full.

During the finale, when Katherine slowly twists her misshapen, horrifying head around and pours that slimy, guttural, Mercedes McCambridge style voice out of her head "God played a trick on you......" I got the chills.

I just wanted a lot more of that.

I feel like there's a version of this movie that's somewhere in the editing room, about 20 minutes longer, that would really deliver the goods.

THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER is a disturbing, intense entry in the Exorcist legacy, delivering chilling moments but ultimately falling short of expectations. I'll give it a B-. If you're a fan of the original, it's definitely worth a look.

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