And October has finally arrived. Most of the streaming platforms have their Halloween titles lined up. Studios have a handful of anticipated releases ready for the season including Smile, Halloween Ends, and Prey for the Devil. Don’t forget about AMC FearFest, which kicked off earlier today. For its part, Amazon Prime got things started early with their original adaptation of horror novelist Grady Hendrix’s novel, My Best Friend’s Exorcism. In addition to a handful of well-received novels, Hendrix has penned a few screenplays (Mohawk, Satanic Panic). With its 80s nostalgia and youth-oriented approach, My Best Friend’s Exorcism should make for good gateway horror.
Abby and Gretchen are ‘best friends forever’. Nothing could separate the two. But after a night experimenting with drugs, Gretchen wanders into an abandoned cabin where something takes hold of her. In the passing days, Gretchen’s behaviour and mannerisms radically change, alienating her from Abby and her other friends. Soon thereafter, Abby realizes that a demon has possessed her best friend and her only salvation may be an exorcism.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism Finds Common Grounds Amidst 80s Nostalgia
In their adaption of Grady Hendrix’s novel, director Damon Thomas and writer Jenna Lamia (The Call) try to accomplish a lot of things. That is, My Best Friend’s Exorcism is part coming-of-age tale, part 80s nostalgia, part comedy, and part horror movie. It’s a tall order for one movie and Thomas doesn’t hit all the right notes. If you’re a Stranger Things fan, Thomas nails the 80s nostalgia from the moment A-Ha plays over the narrative. Though it’s a very different entity, My Best Friend’s Exorcism will inevitably draw comparisons to a certain popular Netflix series. There’s a few anachronistic bits in how Lamia’s adaptation explores the realities of teen life in the 1980s. Nevertheless, My Best Friend’s Exorcism boasts some fun humor, particularly the trio of body-building Jesus-worshipping bodybuilders.
Though it’s a very different entity, My Best Friend’s Exorcism will inevitably draw comparisons to a certain popular Netflix series.
While most viewers have seen the ‘high school is hell’ analogy spun by My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Thomas still makes this aspect of the movie click effectively. It’s set in the 1980s but Thomas and Lamia focus on a range of teen issues including female friendships, body positivity, and LGBTQIA+ attraction. On one hand, the humor here mostly hits is marks. Yet Thomas’ attention to the more human elements of the story is hit and miss. Regardless of age, My Best Friend’s Exorcism understands the challenges of adolescence and the strains it puts on childhood friendships. Still My Best Friend’s Exorcism doesn’t never fully invests in the friendship between Abby and Gretchen. We know we should care on one level, but Thomas never convincingly makes us feel anything.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism May Be Too Light on Horror For More Seasoned Horror Fans
Where My Best Friend’s Exorcism will likely divide audiences is its horror elements. Based on its title, and the references to familiar occult-based titles, longtime horror fans will walk in with a certain amount of expectations. For the most part, however, Thomas keeps things pretty light and safe. Once the other-worldly demon takes hold of Gretchen, her nefarious doings are pretty tame by horror movie standards. Peanut allergies and EpiPens may be serious real-life stuff, but it’s not what horror fans are expecting from the possessed. Most of the horror is reserved for the final act where the exorcism relies heavily on shoddy CGI and genre tropes albeit very gutted ones. Don’t expect much, if anything, in the way of scares or suspense.
For the most part, however, Thomas keeps things pretty light and safe.
There’s not much in the way of scares, but the performances are strong. In particular, Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade, Texas Chainsaw Massacre) reminds us why she was probably the best part of the divisive Texas Chainsaw Massacre legacy sequel. Even if Lamia’s screenplay doesn’t quite mine the depths the central teen friendship, Fisher always commands the screen, demonstrating charisma and a natural depth in her performance. As best friend Gretchen, Amiah Miller (War of the Planet of the Apes, Lights Out) rises above a screenplay that doesn’t fully etch out her character and delivers a wickedly fun adolescent take on possession. Not surprisingly, Christopher Lowell shines in a movie where humor rules. Not all the jokes their mark. But Lowell’s good-natured performance is a highlight.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism Should Make For Decent Gateway Horror
Most horror fans over the age of 20 will likely consider My Best Friend’s Exorcism to be a pedestrian effort. Despite Thomas’ past work on the Netflix Dracula miniseries, this Amazon Prime October release feels light on the horror elements. Nothing here is particularly scary or suspenseful. Throw in some dodgy CGI effects and a late, trope-heavy exorcism and My Friend’s Exorcism isn’t likely to win over seasoned horror fans. And it’s ‘high school is hell’ analogy alongside the helping of 80s nostalgia have both been done better. But the teen relationships at the movie’s heart, amicable humor, and strong central performances should make this one a good gateway horror movie for teens.