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Film Review: THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER (2023): David Gordon Green’s New Requel is Curiously Flat Despite Good Performances

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Ellen Burstyn The Exorcist Believer

The Exorcist: Believer Review

The Exorcist: Believer (2023) Film Review, a movie directed by David Gordon Green, written by Peter Sattler, Scott Teems and David Gordon Green and starring Ellen Burstyn, Jennifer Nettles, Leslie Odom Jr., Ann Dowd, Raphael Sbarge, Olivia O’Neill, Lidya Jewett, Chloe Traicos, E.J. Bonilla, Antoni Carone, Lize Johnston, Danny McCarthy, Norah Murphy, Celeste Oliva, Chandu Kanuri, Emily Rachel Gordon, Ben Bladon and Richard Carr III.

David Gordon Green’s new “requel,” The Exorcist: Believer, is not really a bad movie but, unfortunately, it suffers immensely from flat characterizations and events that transpire within the film which will disappoint viewers. That said, there are at least three truly solid performances in the new picture that help elevate the material above your standard horror movie.

The big surprise, however, is the movie’s under use of Ellen Burstyn who appears once again as Chris MacNeil from the original 1973 classic, The Exorcist. The filmmakers do something to her character midway through that will really anger people who were hoping she would have had a bigger role here. One wonders if Burstyn was looking for a way to keep her part less significant although fans of the original movie will line up in the hopes of seeing more of her again.

This film actually revolves around a man named Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom Jr.) who, after the death of his wife in Haiti, is left to take care of his daughter, Angela (Lidya Jewett). When Angela becomes violent, it is clear there is some sort of demonic possession going on inside her body. Meanwhile, another family is suffering from similar events going on with their own little girl, Katherine (Olivia O’Neill), who is Angela’s close friend. Jennifer Nettles ably plays Katherine’s devoted mom.

When the young girls become too much to handle, Chris is called in to see if she can help but Katherine proceeds to do something wicked with a crucifix that throws the movie off balance completely in terms of trying to figure out where Green was headed with this film. Then, the film goes through a lot of cliched scenes of Victor trying against all odds to free his daughter of the demon that has taken over.

Ann Dowd is the movie’s most valuable player, hands down. Dowd portrays a woman named Paula who lives next door to one of the families. When one of our demon girls tells Paula something, it automatically triggers something in Paula because it involves her past as a religious woman. Paula finds a way to seek out possible redemption through her ability to help Victor in his efforts to free Angela from Satan’s wrath. Dowd captivates viewers with the movie’s best dialogue and its best back story. This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the actress’s previous work. Dowd’s performance simply stands out as the best thing about the new picture. She makes audiences want to believe in her character all throughout her screen time in the film.

There is much to talk about in regards to a scene set in a church where Katherine intercepts a mass screaming aloud about the “body and the blood.” That is referring to, of course, the communion and wine served at the church’s service. At first, Katherine plays oddly with her feet before convincing the entire congregation that she’s become deranged. It just takes time to figure out that she’s actually possessed. This church sequence was disturbing and plays a tad better than the trailer made it seem. It’s actually frightening and done pretty well.

Olivia O’Neill and Lidya Jewett have tough roles as the young possessed girls. Their performances are intriguing but because we’ve come so far technically these days, it’s hard to know which parts of their turns were CGI and which scenes featured them actually acting. Voice overs of the demon inside these young ladies are reminiscent of the original picture but the movie makes the mistake of making us have to choose which one we like better. Or maybe we like them both and the film makes a decision it didn’t have to make. Nevertheless, these were difficult roles to play and both actresses do give their parts a lot of committed energy.

At Halloween Horror Nights at Universal in Orlando, Florida, there is a new haunted house based on the film which I had the experience of walking through recently. It felt scary at certain points but there was no genuine substance to it other than a lot of ghastly images that don’t tell much of a story. The same can be said about the movie. This new picture needed a shot of plot development to keep it moving along more efficiently. It feels that Burstyn could have been utilized much more. When Green used Jamie Lee Curtis to his advantage in the later Halloween films, he made magic. This is not the case with The Exorcist: Believer. When the script does what it does to Burstyn, it makes the filmmakers seem blind to what was needed to make this film more of a success.

There is a huge surprise at the movie’s conclusion. Huge. It gives the audience hope that if this series were to continue, there may be an interesting way to do it. This movie takes a lot of shortcuts and cheats in terms of not even bringing in the Catholic Church the way it should have to combat the demonic possession. That ending, though, could open the door to more sequels which could utilize the material better. It will all depend on the box-office results of this new movie.

The Exorcist: Believer has a few really terrifying moments. Dowd, in particular, steals the film and gives the movie some genuine depth. Other scenes, though, feel so flat that they could have used some more story developments that would have fleshed out the characters more. By introducing a lot of supporting characters, the movie takes a shortcut to get to the ending when it could have dealt with the material in a much more compelling way.

While Leslie Odom Jr. is clearly the star, his performance is only occasionally interesting. The actor gets some moments to shine but a lot of his scenes seem to be conducted strictly by-the-numbers. He’s a concerned dad ready to battle the devil to the finish. Burstyn, however, has a couple of scenes which truly work until the plot sells her short. That leaves Dowd and the actresses who play the young girls who are possessed to carry the leg work the movie depends on for its successes. And, that ending was really inspired! But, coming 50 years after the original, this film should have been so much more.

Rating: 5.5/10

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