Apparently, Universal Studios and Peacock went in together to acquire the rights to The Exorcist for a whooping $400 million. Less than a month ago, The Exorcist: Believer released a week earlier than planned to avoid something worse than The Devil … Taylor Swift’s concert movie. Now the horror movie intended to kick off a new trilogy lands on digital platforms to rent or own just ahead of Halloween. In fairness to The Exorcist: Believer, it did reasonably well at the box office. But a negative critical reception and that hefty $400 million price tag my spell the end for the first planned sequel, The Exorcist: Deceiver.
Years ago, photographer Victor Fielding lost his pregnant wife, but saved his daughter. Thirteen years later, his daughter Angela, is all grown up. But Victor has lost whatever faith he had in God. When Angela and her best friend, Katherine, disappear into the woods for three days, Victor will need something to believe in. His daughter and Katherine return, albeit afflicted with a strange illness no doctor can explain. Only one possible explanation remains. Desperate and out of options, Victor turns to a woman who has dealt with demonic possession in the past.
The Exorcist: Believer Suffers From Mindless Pacing and Lack of Shocks
Contemporary audiences may find The Exorcist to be too slow and too meditative. That’s fine – it’s still one of the scariest horror movies in existence. Regardless of its box office failure at the time of its release, The Exorcist III is also a pretty damn scary movie. Sadly, The Exorcist: Believer is neither scary nor shocking. Director David Gordon Green manages a few good jumps here and there. Given his work on the Halloween trilogy, he’s shown he is more than capable at steering a good horror movie. Some may be quick to suggest the legacy of the original overshadows Gordon Green’s work here. To some extent, there’s truth to that argument. Nothing in this legacy sequel approaches the level of shock that the 1973 movie generated. This is pretty tame stuff that barely outdoes another exorcism movie released earlier this year, The Pope’s Exorcist.
Sadly, The Exorcist: Believer is neither scary nor shocking.
There’s also no denying that The Exorcist: Believer recycles a lot of the scares from William Friedkin’s original movie. And there’s a big case of diminishing returns at play. Moreover, if The Exorcist was a slow burn, the legacy sequel paces itself for contemporary audiences resulting in a connect-the-dots feeling to its story. Themes of faith and belief are here again and appropriately broadened. Nevertheless, there’s still scenes where science and reason fail and the Church mumbles about evil with a small ‘e’ in today’s world. The only difference here is that it moves along at such a quick pace as to lack any weight or gravity. Even the exorcism itself feels obligatory.
The Exorcist: Believer Needlessly Goes The Legacy Sequel Route to Diminishing Returns
One can’t fault David Gordon Green and his co-writers Danny McBride and Scott Teems (Insidious: The Red Door, Firestarter) for going back to the well. Yes, this is the same creative team behind the 2018 Halloween legacy sequel. Following the same blueprint, Gordon Green et al. ignore both of The Exorcist sequels – and likely the prequels – and make this one a direct follow-up. However, it’s not entirely clear that this needed to be legacy sequel. In fact, one can’t help but wonder if this needed to be an Exorcist movie aside from wanting the rub of product familiarity. As mentioned above, The Exorcist: Believer shares – and widens – the original themes of faith and belief. But there’s no Pazuzu in sight. Ellen Burstyn’s ‘Chris MacNeil’ also feels needlessly shoehorned into the story. And a late appearance by Linda Blair comes off as a shameless plug for the planned sequel.
…it’s not entirely clear that this needed to be legacy sequel.
Like the rest of the sequel, too many characters get stuffed into the story with only the most perfunctory of arcs. Only Leslie Odom Jr. gets a satisfying story and stands out alongside his onscreen daughter, played by Lidya Jewett in a similarly strong performance. Several other characters turn up, which only dilutes the story. Though there’s a second possessed child and family, they don’t even get a last name. Instead, Anne Dowd’s (Hereditary) nurse gets her own unnecessary backstory. You’ll be forgiven for not remembers the name of the priest who turns up for the exorcism. Ultimately, the result is a lack of focus that hurts any emotional impact that should exist in the finale.
The Exorcist: Believer May the Start – and the End – of a Planned Trilogy
No, The Exorcist: Believer isn’t a bad movie. Everything from its production values to the performances to some story ideas make this a watchable effort. Maybe it’s also not fair to call it a lazy movie. Clearly, David Gordon Green et al. were aiming for a trilogy here. Yet this is also an immensely dissatisfying movie. Aside from a handful of scares, there’s little we haven’t seen done better in The Exorcist … and a half dozen or so other exorcism movies. Too much overreaching for that trilogy, too many ideas, and too many peripheral characters. Worst of all, the attempts to make this a legacy sequel feel more like the 2022 Texas Chainsaw Massacre than the 2018 Halloween. Needless to say, The Exorcist: Believer falls short of expectations.