Directed by: David Gordon Green
Premise: A direct sequel to the original film. Two girls (Lidya Jewett and Olivia O’Neill) disappear in the woods for three days. They reappear suffering from symptoms of possession. Their families and friends call upon religious and spiritual experts to expel the demons.
What Works: Exorcist: Believer has some very good performances. Lidya Jewett and Olivia O’Neill are cast as the possessed girls and their performances are carefully calibrated between moments of grotesque menace and youthful vulnerability. Leslie Odom Jr. plays the father of Jewett’s character and he’s given a complex backstory that gives the conflict some depth. Also impressive is Ann Dowd as a neighbor and nurse who assists with the exorcism. Along with Exorcist III, Believer is the only Exorcist film to feel consistent with the themes and style of the original picture. One of the key strengths of the 1973 classic was the way it made the characters confront the reality of evil. Believer does that as well with the parents of these girls forced to break out of their comfortable cultural bubbles. The filmmakers have set up the families in opposition to one another; one family is white and Evangelical Christian, the other is black and nonreligious. Believer is climaxed by people of various religious traditions coming together in common cause for the well being of these girls.
What Doesn’t: Exorcist: Believer is well intended but those intentions kneecap the movie. The coming together of this community of faith healers feels forced. They don’t really work together and instead of a profession of faith the climactic exorcism is a cacophony of pseudo-spiritual babble. The moviemakers intend Believer to be about people of different cultural spheres coming together but there’s little sense of them bonding. The parents of O’Neill’s character, played by Jennifer Nettles and Norbert Leo Butz, are barely characterized at all and they have no meaningful relationship with Odom’s character or anyone else, even their preacher (Raphael Sbarge). Believer brings back Ellen Burstyn, reprising her role as Chris MacNeil from the original Exorcist. The film does nothing meaningful with her. The character could be cut from the film without changing anything. Believer is dramatically flat. There is no sense of escalation and the movie is not scary. The opening portion in which the girls are missing is much more engaging than anything that happens after they come back possessed. Even the exorcism scene feels like its running through the motions. After fifty years of Exorcist prequels and knockoffs we’ve seen all this before. Believer ends on a protracted monologue that obnoxiously spells out the meaning of the film.
Bottom Line: Exorcist: Believer is not the worst Exorcist sequel but it’s just not very good. The movie fails to scare and its attempts at cultural reconciliation are hollow.
Episode: #969 (October 15, 2023)