Though somewhat tame, The Exorcist: Believer finds surprising emotional heft and genuine thrills as it attempts to revive an iconic horror franchise.
- Director David Gordon Green brings new life to a classic horror franchise by ignoring previous spinoffs and delivering a direct sequel to the original.
- The focus of The Exorcist: Believer is on a father and his daughter, who embark on a dangerous ritual that leaves them possessed and in need of help.
- While the film falls short of fully living up to the original’s chills, it offers a satisfying ending and sets the stage for a potential trilogy.
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Editor’s note: This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Five years ago, director David Gordon Green brought new life to a beloved and iconic horror franchise by ignoring all previous spinoffs and serving up a direct sequel to the original installment that brought back its formidable leading lady. Now, he attempts to do the same exact thing with yet another horror property. Before, it was Halloween, and now, it’s The Exorcist: Believer, the latest movie to build off the acclaimed 1973 original. How one responds to the updated take on a classic possession tale will likely depend on their relationship to the original movie.
For The Exorcist: Believer, the focus is primarily on a father, Leslie Odom Jr.’s Vincent Fielding. He’s been the sole caregiver for his daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett) her entire life, as her mother died tragically in an earthquake while on a trip to Haiti. Vincent has devoted himself to raising Angela, and his world is turned upside down when, one night, she doesn’t come home. Unbeknownst to Vincent, Angela and her friend Katherine (Olivia O’Neill) trekked into the woods to complete some kind of ritual in the hopes of contacting Angela’s mom. What they instead come across leaves them with burned feet and no recollection of where they’ve been prior to their rescue three days after their disappearance.
Lidya Jewett in The Exorcist: Believer
Though Vincent and Katherine’s parents, Miranda (Jennifer Nettles) and Tony (Norbert Leo Butz), are initially thrilled to have their daughters back, it soon becomes apparent the kids are not alright. Green pulls out many of the familiar possession tropes, from unsettling stares to violent head-banging. Jewett and O’Neill prove to be excellent successors to Linda Blair’s Regan from the original; both young actors nail the intense physicality and twisted facial expressions that stem from the girls’ possessions, and they are responsible for much of The Exorcist: Believer‘s thrills. In the first portion of the movie, Green relies on familiar jump scares to amp up the tension, but once the demonic spirits have fully settled into Angela and Katherine’s souls, it becomes less of a typical scary movie and more of a psychological thriller.
As Green’s Halloween brought back Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, The Exorcist: Believer features the highly-anticipated return of Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil, Regan’s mother who has gone on to study exorcisms in much depth. Vincent seeks her out after his neighbor, devout nurse Ann (Ann Dowd), raises the idea that Angela’s problems go beyond general psychological trauma. Whereas Laurie was one of the main protagonists in the revived Halloween trilogy, Chris gets a smaller role in The Exorcist: Believer, but Burstyn certainly makes the most of it. She is a commanding presence onscreen, particularly in a chilling scene where she confronts a demonic Katherine, who taunts her with pointed references to Regan. The full extent of Chris’ role might spark controversy among some viewers, but there’s little question that her appearance is one of the highlights of the movie.
Lidya Jewett and Olivia O’Neill in The Exorcist: Believer
The Exorcist: Believer faces the difficult task of attempting to live up to one of the most respected horror movies of all time, and in some ways, Green, who also wrote the screenplay with Peter Sattler, isn’t able to recreate the same chills. However, the decision to have two possessed girls instead of just one ends up being more than a sequel gimmick; it gives the third act genuine emotional weight, with the staging of the climactic exorcism giving the movie a shot of adrenaline. The lead-up to the big moment can be uneven as the screenplay grapples with interesting ideas regarding religion that aren’t always explored to the fullest extent. Yet, when the time comes, The Exorcist: Believer goes all-in on the girls’ possessions, and every performer rises to the occasion as they fight to save Angela and Katherine’s souls. Odom particularly gets an excellent showcase when a devastating secret from Vincent’s past is revealed, which only adds to the emotional stakes.
In some ways, The Exorcist: Believer feels tame when it comes to the full potential of its premise. The physical damage caused by the possessions is striking, to be sure (and special credit should go to the makeup team for their work on the girls), but the horror that comes from them doesn’t pack a real punch until the end. Thankfully, it’s a fascinating ending, and one that comes with a glimmer of hope. It’s no secret Green and powerhouse production company Blumhouse has a trilogy in mind for The Exorcist, but this installment offers few clues as to where it could go. As far as first steps, though, The Exorcist: Believer makes some solid ones.
The Exorcist: Believer releases in theaters Friday, October 6. It is 121 minutes long and rated R for some violent content, disturbing images, language, and sexual references.
Key Release Dates
- The Exorcist: Believer Release Date: 2023-10-06
- The Exorcist: Deceiver Release Date: 2025-04-18