The Exorcist: Believer

When Miranda (Jennifer Nettles, "Harriet") and Tony (Norbert Leo Butz, TV's 'Fosse/Verdon') meet Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom Jr., "Hamilton") at the police station because their daughters are missing, they didn’t even know the girls were friends.  But when Katherine (newcomer Olivia O’Neill) and Angela (Lidya Jewett, TV's 'Good Girls') are found in a barn 30 miles away three days later with no memory of how they got there, the parents will soon find out their nightmare has only begun in “The Exorcist: Believer.”

Laura's Review: C-

After his unnecessary and unsatisfying resurrection trilogy of John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” David Gordon Green seems to be headed down the same path with William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist.”  Collaborating with “Halloween Kills'" Scott Teems and Danny McBride on a story that copies every foreboding beat of the original, from its religious opening in a foreign land to childhood incontinence, the film ironically begins to go off the rails as refrains of ‘Tubular Bells’ introduce Ellen Burstyn’s Chris MacNeil into the action.

Before that the movie is actually promising as we follow photographer Victor’s very pregnant wife Sorenne (Tracey Graves) around Haitian markets, a young boy leading her to a group of women who perform rites for the protection of her child.  But an earthquake hits as Victor makes his way back to their hotel, just in time to see it collapse – he finds Sorenne barely alive and doctors tell him he has to make a choice as they can only save either his wife or his unborn child.

Thirteen years later, his daughter is pranking him as they try to make their way out of the house, but their joshing mood is broken when he asks where she got the scarf she’s wearing – it was Sorenne’s and Victor takes it away (if Father Karras had mother issues in the original film, now it’s mothers and daughters times two, Angela obsessed with the mom she never met, MacNeil estranged from Regan since she wrote a best selling book).  We’ll see Angela head into the woods with Katherine, the two attempting to raise Sorenne with a pendant and candle, but not the outcome.

The film features only one, truly good scene, one that imitates the original movie’s possessing demon’s knowledge of its foe, here the Fielding’s neighbor Ann (Ann Dowd, "Hereditary"), a nurse who ends up caring for Angela during her initial hospital stay.  The build-up to that, where Victor realizes something is really wrong, is also well done, although Katherine’s parallel possession is far more boilerplate.  And it is Katherine who MacNeil first encounters after she is retrieved by Victor to help with his daughter when they discover the other parents have foolishly kept theirs at home.  Burstyn’s essentially taken out of the movie, her actions inexcusably foolhardy given MacNeil’s past experience.

After an utterly ridiculous speech by an incapacitated MacNeil in which she expounds upon exorcisms crossing all cultures and religions, we get a dual one by committee including parents, nurse Ann, African rite practitioner Doctor Beehibe (Okwui Okpokwasili, "Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream"), Fielding neighbor Stuart (Danny McCarthy, TV's 'Somebody Somewhere') and Pastor Don Revans (Raphael Sbarge, "Risky Business"), Ann’s priest Father Maddox (E.J. Bonilla, "Gemini Man") praying in his car until shamed into action by Victor.   We’ve barely gotten to know any of these people, the climax coming too abruptly and with little payoff other than one devilish little twist.  In addition to shallow character development, Gordon Green and screenplay cowriter Peter Sattler (“Camp X-Ray”) waste opportunities, the paper fortune teller we see Angela playing with suggesting this film’s Ouija Board, only to be essentially forgotten (or perhaps edited out (Timothy Alverson, 2018's "Halloween") – the film often feels like it’s been gutted).

I didn't even notice the score by Amman Abbasi and David Wingo, a rarity for a horror film, until the familiar 'Tubular Bells' kicked in.  And if the film’s climax piles on too quickly before overstaying its welcome, the wrap is equally abrupt, one last ‘surprise’ not really one at all.

Universal releases "The Exorcist: Believer" in theaters on 10/6/23.