“The Exorcists” scared up a massive box office success 50 years ago with its tale of a young woman and priest locked in a battle over her being possessed by a demon. It was a milestone in film history changing the horror genre forever.
Six films later in the franchise, “The Exorcist: Believer” goes to the other extreme. Director David Gordon Green confuses two young girls spewing slime out of their mouths for real scares.
Yucky? Yes. Scary? No.
The lack of originality is both shocking and disappointing as the only thing frightening about this film is that it got made. The only answer is to try and squeeze out a few more bucks from the franchise.
Using the original film as a paint-by-numbers guide, “The Exorcist: Believer” opens in Haiti where Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom, Jr) witnesses his very pregnant wife dying during a massive earthquake. He is left to raise their daughter, Angela (Lidya Jewett) on his own.
Fast forward 13 years and Angela and her friend Katherine (Olivia Marcum), disappear in the woods one day after school. They want to try their hand at a little black magic to contact Angela’s dead mom. What happens is the two young girls return three days later with no memory of what happened to them and a complete change in personalities.
Continuing the pattern established in the first film, the girls start spewing both profanity and a black tar-like substance. Their condition worsens to the point everyone decides an exorcism is needed.
Victor seeks help for Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) who went through a similar ordeal with her daughter, Regan (Linda Blair), a half century ago. He thinks her background will help save his daughter.
What it does is present a reminder to anyone familiar with the original “Exorcist” that this latest incarnation is a pale copy. The blatant lack of inspiration results in a story that plods along pausing for long passages to talk about religious beliefs. And, the film is filled with various beliefs as if Green felt it was more important to be inclusive than creative.
So much of “The Exorcist: Believer” requires a constant manipulation of the film’s own rules. It is made clear Angela was given spiritual protection before she was born but it wasn’t enough to keep her from being possessed. The girls show signs of potential deadly force, but the parents have no problem taking them home to perform the exorcism. Even the decision to perform the exorcism goes from certain to denied to a final ditch effort.
More was expected of Green as he came to this project having directed three “Halloween” movies. But, he did show in those films a tendency to rely on the original “Halloween” for a lot of his direction in the new versions. That tendency with “The Exorcism: Believer” follows that pattern.
Bringing back Burstyn created a direct link to the original film. That would have been a plus had writers Green and Peter Sattler had a better idea of how to use her. Her limited number of scenes add nothing to the new story and just act as a reminder of better days.
Instead of giving the film a terrifying heart, Green never creates any real scares. There are some moments that startle but that is a cheap substitute for real spooky moments.
It all ends up looking like Green’s work is similar to someone trying to repeat the recipe of a famous chef. He knows what ingredients should be used. It’s the blending of them that lacks a creative touch. His version will be more palatable for those who have not seen the original and have no idea how good the formula can be.
The film does answer the question of what is scarier than two young girls who are possessed by demons. The answer is Taylor Swift. The release date of “The Exercise: Believer” was pushed to a week earlier than planned to avoid competing with Swift’s concert film set to open Oct. 13. Too bad there wasn’t a Swift movie this weekend also.
The Exorcist: Believer
Cast: Leslie Odom Jr., Ellen Burstyn, Ann Dowd, Lydia Jewett, Olivia O’Neill.
Director: Davd Gordon Green
Rated: R for language, suggestive material, sexual references, violence
Running time: 121 minutes.