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The Exorcist: Believer ★★★



Directed: David Gordon Green

Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Ann Dowd, Nick Benas, Nigel Barto, Lidya Jewett, Olivia Marcum, Leslie Odom Jr., Jennifer Nettles, Norbert Leo Butz

Released: 6th October 2023 (UK cinemas)

Everything is a legacy sequel these days, and you simply can’t escape them. Not sure if this is how everyone felt during the horror remake craze of the 2000s, but at least that trend had a certain grungy charm to it, with each subsequent horror IP getting its own nu-metal music video treatment. Oh, if only The Exorcist: Believer came out during that era, My Chemical Romance blasting over the credits and the prologue being set at some dingy Pazuzu-themed rave. However, David Gordon Green’s latest horror reinvention is a much safer, classier affair that has enough intriguing ideas to warrant a modern look at the classic franchise yet feels burdened by its commitment to the acclaimed legacy.

Following the now-established David Gordon Green way of making follow-ups to the original film, Believer ignores the subsequent sequels (most of which, by the way, are good!) and jumps straight into the modern-day story of Victor and Angela Fielding. Much like in Friedkin’s horror classic, Victor (the terrific Leslie Odom Jr.) is a single parent who’s struggling to balance parental duties with his photography career. Having witnessed the death of his wife during the 2010 Haiti earthquake (a rather insensitive inclusion of a real-life tragedy), his sights are now set firmly on the well-being of his teenage daughter. But the one time he lets his daughter stay out late is the day when Angela and her friend Katherine become possessed by a very familiar demon, Pazuzu.

How could one approach a direct sequel to The Exorcist without making it a retread of the original? Well, it seems like David Gordon Green and his writing partner Danny McBride chose to pull a reverse Halloween Kills with this one, shaping this seemingly intimate family drama into a tale of collective kindness. It’s almost as if Green simply wanted to make yet another suburban indie drama that questions the phenomenon of Christian America, but chose the genre framework and a popular horror IP to get his ideas on the screen. Consequently, the film doesn’t feel overly preoccupied with the “horror” of it all. Everything is merely in service of the obvious “themes”, heading steadily in the direction of trendy Social Issue horror.

Strangely enough, the inclusion of Ellen Burstyn’s character, Chris MacNeil, feels both inventive and studio-mandated at once. In some ways reminiscent of the idiosyncratic take on Dr. Loomis in Rob Zombie’s brilliant Halloween II, MacNeil is portrayed as a materialistic author, using her daughter’s traumatic experience and the deaths of two priests for her best-selling autobiography. It’s a move bound to irritate a certain subset of Exorcist purists, but one that’s certainly more thematically interesting than the nostalgia-driven addition of Laurie Strode in Green’s Halloween trilogy.

Believer is supposed to be the start of a new trilogy at Blumhouse – whether that comes to pass remains to be seen. For now, it’s a lesser sequel than its cult-favourite predecessors, but that’s not to say it doesn’t work on its own. Quite the opposite, really: it’s a film that functions best as a standalone original entry, with Green’s formal and storytelling prowess practically begging to break free from the legacy sequel constraints. Here’s hoping Deceiver lets him flex those creative muscles a bit more.

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