Home » ‘The Exorcist: Believer’ is a Shameless Cash Grab [Review]

‘The Exorcist: Believer’ is a Shameless Cash Grab [Review]

It’s been fifty years since The Exorcist was unleashed on the general public. Fifty! The Exorcist had a profound impact on me the first time I watched it. I had never heard of an exorcism before, and I was young, so I didn’t totally understand how masterfully crafted the movie was at the time. But it still had that type of impact on me. Without a doubt, one of the most stunning achievements across the board in the history of cinema.

The Exorcist: Believer is technically the sixth movie in The Exorcist franchise. Universal Pictures paid $400 million for the rights to the franchise, with the intention to make a trilogy for a modern audience, and I say modern audience, because The Exorcist: Believer does not seem to be for die-hard fans of the original movie. More on that later. Universal tapped Blumhouse, Morgan Creek, and the Danny McBride/David Gordon Green production outfit Rough House to helm this planned trilogy, with the hopes of parlaying the success (yes, somehow a success) of the rebooted Halloween trilogy into another historic horror property. David Gordon Green was at the helm of all three Halloween movies from that rebooted trilogy and returns to helm The Exorcist rebooted legacy sequels. Likewise, for Blumhouse, who seem to be fixated on the profitably potential of these franchises. How could you blame them though, these are blue-chip horror properties, and are obviously sought after in the business. Again, more on that later, but first let’s get to the movie itself…

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The Exorcist: Believer opens with the star of the movie, Victor, played by Leslie Odom, Jr. (Hamilton), who is in Haiti with his pregnant wife, Sorrene, played by Tracey Graves. Victor and Sorrene are in Haiti to take pictures, which is an incredibly odd thing to be doing as Sorrene is ready to pop at any second. Because the location being used is Haiti, it is expected that an earthquake is coming, which of course occurs while Victor and Tracey are separated. As Victor is out taking pictures, Sorrene gets caught up in the hotel room amidst the earthquake, unable to escape, Victor finally arrives, but is too late to save her. With the unimaginable choice of having to choose between the life of his wife and life of his daughter at the hospital, Victor must make an impossible choice.

We then cut thirteen years into the future, where Victor is raising his daughter, Angela, played by Lidya Jewett. Victor’s relationship with Angela is strong, and all seems to be well, but Angela yearns for connection with her deceased mother who she never got to meet. Arguments ensue as Angela is caught going through a box of Sorrene’s stuff in the basement. After some textbook banter between father and daughter before school, Victor agrees to allow Angela to go to a friend’s house after school. Predictably, Angela has no intention of going to a friend’s house and opts to go into the woods with Katherine (played by Olivia Marcum) to attempt to conjure the spirit of her mom, and communicate with her. Of course, all goes poorly, and all hell breaks loose, as the girls go missing for three days, and turn up thirty miles from where they were last seen in a barn, discombobulated and confused about how they got there. Katherine and Angela are returned home, but something is off, and it becomes quite obvious that the girls are possessed. Even a faith-less Victor is quickly convinced that something supernatural has consumed his daughter.

The rest of the movie plays out, again, predictably, as a battle for Katherine and Angela’s souls. For whatever reason, it is not just Victor and Katherine’s parents, Miranda and Tony, played by Jennifer Nettles (The Righteous Gemstones) and Norbert Leo Butz (Disconnect), respectively, who are involved with the fight for Katherine and Angela’s souls, but a myriad of pointless and worthless characters are heavily involved. This includes the nosey next-door neighbor and nurse at the hospital, Ann, played by Ann Dowd (Hereditary), another neighbor Stuart, who I thought was Tom Arnold, but is actually Danny McCarthy, Pastor at the Church (yes, that is the actual official credited name), played by Raphael Sbarge (Risky Business), Doctor Beehibe, played by Okwui Okpokwasili, (are we done with additional characters yet? Nope), Father Maddox, played by E.J. Bonnila (Gemini Man), assuming the compositional Father Merrin/Father Karras role, and finally (exhale), Chris MacNeil, played by Ellen Burstyn, because, well, of course. Nine people seems like a lot to be heavily involved and it definitely felt like a whole goddamn lot. It feels like the only purpose of all of these characters is to shoehorn in as many faiths into the story as possible, which is obnoxious and excessive, making it difficult to gauge the emotions of each character, and making it especially hard to distinguish any nuance brought forth by the performers. It is an odd group to mash together, and they have little to no chemistry on the screen…

The battle rages on, everyone is involved, including Ellen Burstyn, who has one of the most frustrating lines of dialogue that I have ever seen in a movie. When referring to the two priests, Father Merrin and Father Karras, who literally died saving her daughter’s life, Chris bemoans that she could not witness the exorcism because of “that damn patriarchy”. 2023 seems to be the year of bemoaning the patriarchy. And rightfully so, but in this movie specifically, it makes for an insane choice to take that tone when referring to a ritual that took the life of two priests who willingly put their lives in danger and died trying to help, with one death being a suicide/sacrifice. Even if this is just a joke, then why? Had to take a deep breath after that one. Other than that, Ellen Burstyn is, of course, awesome as always, and actually does add value to this movie, I just wish she was utilized more.

The theme of questioning faith is obviously the intention of the filmmakers, but there was too many damn people, too many damn conflicting faiths, for there to be anything for the audience to hold onto. The Exorcist: Believer takes place in Georgia, and in the south, faith plays a big part of everyday life for a lot of people, so there is obviously some meat on the bone there. But all of the variations of different meats make for a jumbled mess that would have benefited greatly from focusing in on the internal conflict between a man (Victor) and his battle against his own faith during this external conflict, like Chris in the original. I understand trying to stray from the original and doing something new, but this was doing too much, and felt scattered because of it…

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On the technical side, The Exorcist: Believer is very well done. I have so many complaints about the writing, but the technical aspects are quite well done, and actually kind of fantastic. The exorcism scene in the third act is one of the best that I have seen in a movie, and the special effects/make-up departments deserve a huge round of applause for this one. From the sound design to cinematography, everything in The Exorcist: Believer screams big budget production. There are a few scenes that I found amazing, the aforementioned exorcism scene, as well as some of the scares while the girls are still not fully consumed by possession. In that sense, you get what you pay for, so let’s shift back to the bigger picture of why this movie is made, and why it was made by these people specifically…

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Let’s do this quickly. It has to be said. Blumhouse and David Gordon Green are simply unfit to be handling these legacy horror properties. To be honest, and I’m lumping the Halloween reboot into this as well, there seems to be an odd disdain towards these franchises that heavily outweighs the love and respect for the history and lore of these series. Legacy characters can be cool when used well, but they felt gimmicky in the Halloween reboot as well as The Exorcist reboot, and the Blumhouse/Rough House combination seem to misunderstand what fans of these franchises are hungry for. The profitability of these movies has masked the fact that all of these remakes, reboots, legacy reboots, pseudo-sequels, or whatever you want to call them are painfully average, and have bastardized the genre, these characters, and what makes horror so great.

Horror, in my opinion, thrives most when it is one of two things, either totally unique and original, or campy fun. The Halloween and The Exorcist reboots are neither of these, and in fact, seem to be shameless cash grabs that have no substance, and aren’t fun. It’s a silly thing to bitch and moan about, but re-writing franchise lore and bringing back legacy characters just for the sole purpose of some extra box office dollars after featuring them in a trailer doesn’t and shouldn’t cut it for fans of these franchises, old or new.

With the exception of the legacy villainous monster characters, fans of the genre want to go forwards, not backwards, we don’t need to keep on bringing back familiar protagonists, antagonists are easier to bring back as they are the true backbone of the longevity of the franchises. This is a typical misconception by those suits in Hollywood. Not to be ignored, forcing the audience to go along with what they think should be accepted lore is an ass-backwards way of going about business. Blumhouse should be commended for the successes they have had, especially pushing the horror genre forward and playing a big part of the rejuvenation of the genre in the early 2010s. They have produced some of my favorite horror movies, empowered some of my favorite filmmakers, even though they have a weird history of wrongfully denigrating their own product. But what makes the original Exorcist and original Halloween so great is that they were cutting edge and unique from filmmakers who weren’t trying to squeeze every dollar adhering to what is safe, but instead opted to keep it simple, staying focused thematically, and do what was right to make the coolest story possible, and of course, everyone dug it.

I’ll admit, it is unfair to criticize a company that has done way more good for the genre than bad, but this recent trend is off-putting. David Gordon Green is an incredibly eclectic filmmaker with a lot of great movies on his resume, but this run of horror movies have been vanilla at best, forgettable, and sometimes downright ridiculous. The fundamental problem with movies like The Exorcist: Believer is that it is more focused on setting up a trilogy more so than actually making a standalone movie that works. Hence, this revamped iteration of The Exorcist being solely focused on box office returns. I can’t imagine the return on investment being substantial, due to the outrageous price tag of the property itself, but The Exorcist: Believer doesn’t seem to be for anyone other than the shareholders…

Overall, I really did like a few things about The Exorcist: Believer, in particular one of the choices made in the final act. I’ll avoid spoilers, but I thought it was ballsy and really worked well. I was shocked and satisfied by that decision, which makes it really the only aspect of this movie that tied back to what makes the original Exorcist so great. I’ll maintain the bare minimum amount of optimism for the remainder of the trilogy, but I fear that this franchise will just fall on its face, maybe breakeven financially and be a decent but mostly forgettable trilogy for the audience. The Exorcist wasn’t safe and took enormous swings that paid off, so it would be a real shame for this rebooted trilogy to limp to the finish line like so many unoriginal legacy sequels have done previously. Just like the wave of shameless remakes from the mid-‘00s, The Exorcist: Believer is watchable, and I’d recommend watching it, but the big picture is very frustrating, and just like those aforementioned shameless remakes, will be long forgotten and hardly relevant, basically the complete opposite of the impact The Exorcist had…

Wicked Horror Rating: 6.5/10

From Universal Studios, The Exorcist: Believer is playing exclusively in theaters as of October 6th, 2023.

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