Thursday, July 18, 2024

Movie Review: “The Exorcist: Believer”

The sixth film in “The Exorcist” franchise, David Gordon Green’s reboot of sorts is nothing if not excessive. It offers us not one but two correlatives to Linda Blair: Two girls possessed by demons, which means double the blasphemy, double the sinister makeup and growling voiceover work, and double the upchuck.

Forgive me if I’m not impressed. Green, a bygone director of insightful, even revelatory dramas and winning comedies, has lately become a contract hack on creaky horror franchises. His last three projects, majority poorly received, continued the “Halloween” saga. Now he’s back with an “Exorcist” sequel that most directly riffs on the events of William Friedkin’s 1973 original, on the occasion of its 40th anniversary, complete with the casting of Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil, mother of the possessed Regan, in a minor role as a sage of exorcisms.

Such carryover only invites comparisons to the groundbreaking first entry, which does Green’s feature no favors. The greatest hits are all present, but the shock has faded. From its jump scares to its protracted climax, “The Exorcist: Believer” resembles little more than a shopworn money grab.

Leslie Odom Jr. stars as Victor Fielding, a commercial photographer and the movie’s lone voice of pure skepticism. He has few reasons to engage in magical thinking. As we witness in an extended prologue, he lost his pregnant wife in the Haiti earthquake of 2010. Thirteen years later, he’s the sole provider for his daughter, Angela (Lidya Jewett), who survived the disaster from the womb.

One day, Angela and a friend, Katherine (Olivia Marcum), escape to the woods with a pendulum and a prayer, in an attempt to conjure the mother Angela never met. Three days pass until they show up 30 miles away, with little memory of having been gone, and with the symptoms of demonic possession slowly creeping into their voices, their mannerisms, their skin.

Olivia Marcum in “The Exorcist: Believer”

While Victor cannot accept even the concept of a possession, the rest of the motley crew of “The Exorcist: Believer” are pretty much all in, from Katherine’s evangelical parents; to Victor’s nosy neighbor Ann (Ann Dowd, a memorable presence even in middling material), who harbors a conflicted religious past; to a healer with voodoo-like methods (Okwui Okpokwasili) who joins their effort to expunge the demons. There’s even a Catholic priest, Father Maddox (E.J. Bonilla), who reluctantly agrees to join the makeshift exorcism, after the Church has muzzled the effort due to politics and perception—one of the few developments in the film that jibes with reality.

I don’t have to relay any of the rest, in part because you’ve essentially seen this movie before. With every sad callback, complete with an eye-rolling cameo in the denouement, you’re reminded that the franchise’s better days are behind it.

As its subtitle indicates, “The Exorcist: Believer” wants to be a wholesome (seriously!) pro-faith movie and a gauche and ghastly blood-gusher at the same time, a high wire act that the stunningly gruesome original, for all its immersion into a then-little-known Catholic rite, never attempted to balance.

Central to this puritanical streak is the implication that a handsome and eligible bachelor like Victor, in the 13 years since his wife’s fatal accident, has not so much as glanced at another female. Exorcism I can get behind—but that leap of fancy I cannot believe.

“The Exorcist: Believer” opens today at most area theaters.


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John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of bocamag.com, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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