This lazy, unimaginative horror legacy sequel reeks of deceit and boredom.
If you add the words “The Exorcist” to the title of any film, chances are you’ll catch the attention of moviegoers. Why? Because even 50 years later, The Exorcist itself remains the gold standard for the horror genre. A classic that redefined an entire genre, every horror movie that has come out since has tried to capture the same buzz the original film did. Horror franchises being revived with new legacy sequels are the latest rage, with the most notable of which is the Halloween sequel trilogy that finished up last year with Halloween Ends. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that Universal Studios (who purchased the rights to make a new Exorcist trilogy for a whopping $400 million) is yet again teaming up with Blumhouse Productions (who helped make the Halloween sequel trilogy with Universal Studios) to make a new horror sequel trilogy for the Exorcist franchise. However, it’s a shame that on the 50th anniversary of such a beloved movie that we also get a legacy sequel in the form of The Exorcist: Believer, a lifeless film that’s devoid of frights and confoundingly boring for most of its runtime. With barely any association to the first two words in the name of its not-so-cheap title, Believer is in contention for worst film of the year.
The Exorcist: Believer takes us to a small town in Georgia where two girls venture into the woods one day after school and go missing. When the girls are found three days later, they are evaluated and eventually taken to their homes. But things get horrifying for each girl and it is revealed that they are demonically possessed. The parents of each girl seek help from someone who has had similar experiences in the past, which leads them to Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), the mother of the girl who was demonically possessed in the original film.
The core of the film’s problems can be traced to the story itself, which was written by Peter Sattler and director David Gordon Green. For a good bit of the film, the narrative focus shifts back and forth between the two girls, their possessions, and their families, along with the people in town who are trying to help them. This back-and-forth narrative shift (along with the entire film, actually) wouldn’t be problematic if the film gave the audience an evil presence that sent chills down their spines that made you actually care for the numerous characters the film tries to juggle all at once. Scenes come and go with the intention to either frighten or add gravitas to the situation. But in reality, most everything that is meant to scare you produces more giggles than gasps, and the scenes used to add dramatic flair fall so flat that I suspect they will have audience members looking at the clocks on their phones on multiple occasions. I mention all of this before even pointing out that some things in relation to the demonic possessions are left completely unexplained or how the underlying story beneath it all as it relates to one of the fathers does nothing to expand upon the term “faith” that most of these exorcism films so dearly hold to.
Perhaps the film’s biggest sin, however, is the illusion that it is strongly connected to the original Exorcist classic. Sure, Believer uses a score similar to the original film at times and can have its demonically possessed girls utter the same words that Regan spewed in the original film; but there is no valid connection to the original release that makes this one a worthy successor. When the film reintroduces Burstyn’s Chris MacNeil to try and make a statement for the film as a legacy sequel, it’s nothing more than an extended cameo that ultimately ends up doing the character wrong.
The Exorcist: Believer is the first in a proposed trilogy, with the next film arriving in 2025. Like we mentioned with the resurgence of Halloween that resulted in a new trilogy, you have to wonder if they now are rethinking their approach considering how this $400 million-dollar investment starts off. On top of everything previously mentioned, there is no sequel hook or cliffhanger to generate excitement for what’s to come next. Where the fault for all this ultimately lies is a question that may never be answered. Perhaps with shooting only having been completed in the spring, they felt rushed to deliver something within the same year as the 50th anniversary of the original. There is also some choppy editing in the back half of the film that suggests there might have been more than a couple of people who gave their input on the finished product. Or maybe the franchise needs a new voice in the director’s chair and at the script writing keyboard instead of David Gordon Green, whose credits also include the two most recent Halloween legacy sequels that also were mediocre at best. Either way, this film deserves to be cast out like the demons that possess the individuals in it while Universal Studios and Blumhouse need to cleanse themselves of whatever malady cursed The Exorcist: Believer before deciding which direction they intend to take the franchise going forward.