A Hooked On Horror Review - The Exorcist: Believer
When this was first announced, I did question firstly why and secondly how an earth Blumhouse plan on following up undoubtedly one of the greatest horror films of all time? They’ve usually got a pretty decent track record when it comes to this genre, and two decent Halloween films (not Ends) from Green filled me with a bit more hope. I won’t lie when first images, teasers and trailer released I was excited…maybe I had nothing to worry about. I was pretty disappointed when it became apparent my initial worries surrounding the film were in fact a reality. Whilst I will say this isn’t a bad film, it is a bad Exorcist film and I genuinely think Green may have killed his own career with Believer. Here's my The Exorcist: Believer Review.
When his daughter, Angela, and her friend Katherine, show signs of demonic possession, it unleashes a chain of events that forces single father Victor Fielding to confront the nadir of evil. Terrified and desperate, he seeks out Chris MacNeil, the only person alive who's witnessed anything like it before.
I went to see a screening of Friedkin’s original 1973 film last week as the film celebrated its 50th Anniversary and I left the screen probably more unnerved and uneasy than the first time I saw; it hits differently on the big screen! And whilst Believer did have a few moments, it left no lasting impact on me after I left that cinema screen. If this was just a standard possession horror, I’d probably be more favourable in this review, but this film just completely missed the mark as part of The Exorcist franchise.
The story is pretty straight forward and begins at a snail’s pace. Whilst I had no issue with the pacing of the film, I do take issue with multiple things being introduced to the story that make little to no sense, don’t offer anything more to the film, the characters or the narrative and then just vanish, get forgotten about or just not addressed. There’s a really cool scene regarding markings on the girls’ feet, which could have turned into something amazing, but it just got tossed aside and forgotten about. You’re left with more questions than answers by the end of the film. And whilst the original was layered and featured a lot of depth and development, Believer falls massively short.
Whilst the original film offered just enough of an explanation behind Pazuzu, Believer offers absolutely nothing as to why or who, or any sort of explanation to explain how this demon knows about the events of the previous film…it sort of just happens and we’re just stuck with it. When the pace does quicken, things happen so quickly I felt like I didn’t have time to take anything. It just felt Green was glossing over it, ticking all the usual tropes for a possession film and what we’d expect just to get to the big exorcism scene. Which I’ll be honest wasn’t worth sitting through the rest for. Don't get me wrong, there's some wonderful moment throguhout, but they were just too few and far between.
So how were the actual exorcism scenes? In short, poor. Instead of just picking one religion and one rite of exorcism, it comes across like Green has picked his favourite parts from several different faiths and religions. And whilst I know it was a marketing ploy (tagline Exorcism is a ritual. Every culture, every religion. They all use different methods…. It’s going to take all of them.) and his attempt to include other cultures/religions but it just didn’t work. Don’t even get me started on the team doing the exorcism in the film- I actually cringed several times. I won’t ruin it, but I was expecting Nic Fury to turn up and start talking about him forming a team with God’s mightiest heroes- the Exengers. The scenes featuring the possessed girls toying with people though-they were great!
Bringing Chris MacNeil back into the franchise was a fantastic idea, and it was wonderful seeing Ellen Burstyn return to such an iconic role…but much like some of the legacy characters that were brought back for the newest Halloween trilogy, this film doesn’t really do her justice (or give her much screentime). Despite the issues I had, she features in probably the best, and most memorable, scene of the film. No spoilers here folks, but it’s incredibly cruel and messed up. I wasn’t a huge fan or how they glossed over the absence of Linda Blair’s Regan as well, but you understand why later in the film. I’m still adamant Regan has had the story she’s had in the hopes they can convince her to return for one or both of the sequels that are currently planned.
Whilst in was well shot (mostly), aesthetically there was nothing there that made me feel like I was watching an Exorcist film. There were a few times throughout the film I was seriously questioning the shot and focus though, once or twice you were hit with a Blair Witch/student film type vibe. Due to this day and age of course, you’ve got to make at least one jump scare in a horror regardless…and unfortunately this film features several. This only added to the feeling this wasn’t a sequel to a film that has been described as the scariest film ever made. Nothing came organically like it did with the original and a lot of the time it felt forced or like Green was trying too hard. Not going to lie, it felt like it cheapened the film for me.
As with most films, there’s a lot I did enjoy. First and foremost- Chris Nelson take a bow. The make-up and special effects in this were fantastic; this is one element I thought this film nailed. Keeping it similar enough to what we saw Regan go through but modernising it (to an extent) and adding new and fresh ideas to it. The voice was another key part I think was perfect, there’s some great throwbacks and nods to previous films as well. The demon in this is particularly cruel and devious which I loved. I can’t really go into detail without spoiling it so just go watch the film- there’s a few times I was sat there delighted and disgusted in equal measure. The soundtrack was beautiful and expertly incorporated Tubular Bells. The cast were great, all things considered, with main stars Olivia O’Neill and Lidya Jewett well and truly stealing the show. I hope we’ll see both of them again several times within the horror genre soon!
Overall, I wouldn’t say this is a bad film; it’s just not an Exorcist film. Just a bit of something and nothing really. I mean in the grand scheme of things; this is probably one of the better-quality sequels, but I’ve always maintained Exorcist still would’ve been even better as just a stand-alone film. If this was a bog-standard possession horror film, I think it would’ve had a lot more favourable comments made about it (from fans and critics alike). And I personally think I would’ve enjoyed it more, but you can’t have hold of an I.P of this calibre and deliver a film like this.
The themes, thoughts and messages originally behind the Exorcist are seemingly forgotten or just plain ignored in this film. There was not really any pivotal or truly memorable scenes. A lot of the iconography and subtle imagery used in the original wasn’t there. Whilst I respect Green for trying to add his own stamp, he missed the mark here. This had the potential to be another huge success for Blumhouse, Universal and the horror genre, but it just fell short. I may grow to appreciate it over the years, but for now I think I’ll go revisit the short-lived TV series if I want a sequel to The Exorcist- that was fantastic.
However, I am interested to see where they go and which direction they take for the upcoming sequels, I’m still sort of hoping they can redeem this and put the franchise back on track. Anyone who’s seen the film, knows what I’m on about when I say the next film could be even bigger. And regardless of whether or not people like this film, I think we’ll be getting the planned sequels. Whether or not Green will be directing again, only time will tell. But Universal can’t really afford not to take another chance when they’ve just spent $400 million on the rights to it…
The Exorcist: Believer is in cinemas now.