HOLLYWOOD—Ok, I cannot recall a movie being panned so universally by critics in a very long time with “The Exorcist: Believer.” I think so many people were in uproar because hello, the 1973 film “The Exorcist” is a classic. It might be one of the scariest movies ever made and sometimes there are movies that don’t need or deserve a sequel. I will be honest; “The Exorcist” is one of those films. That movie works because you have Oscar-caliber performances, something never seen in cinema before and the suspense continues to ramp up until you reach a climax that is so satisfying.
There isn’t much story beyond that, but director David Gordon Green, who helmed the recent “Halloween” trilogy with the 2018 film, “Halloween Kills” and “Halloween Ends” starts off strong, but it then faltered. Similar thing happens with this movie. I found the first act of “The Exorcist: Believer” to be fantastic. There is great development of characters, slow build of the suspense and there are solid performances. I mean Leslie Odom Jr. is exceptional as Victor Fielding, who is quite protective of his daughter, Angela (Lidya Jewett), who lost her mother during birth.
The movie does an ok job with that opening sequence, almost attempting to grab that secrecy that the first movie had. It is ok, but nothing solid for me. The performances by Jewett and Olivia O’Neill as Angela and Katherine are palpable. They scare you as possessed girls, however, they are not Linda Blair. Blair’s character of Regan is more fleshed out and we really care for that character because the chaos did not happen right away. When things start to ramp up they are fun, but nothing riveting that delivers shock value.
Great work by Jennifer Nettles and Norbert Leo Butz as Katherine’s parents and Ann Dowd as Nurse Ann is solid in the role that sheds plenty of light on a past that ultimately connects to the present and ties in with the characters. I found all the other characters in this horror flick just there and I didn’t care about them. Jump scares, I don’t recall being shaken to the core, but I was eager to see how Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn, who portrayed Chris MacNeil would be utilized in this sequel.
Here is the problem; Burstyn’s character is totally wasted in this flick. She should have had a much meatier role as such an iconic player in the original. Her appearance feels like a waste of time and it truly annoyed me to the core that her talent was wasted. There is indeed a shocking scene, but I feel it only proves what so many people have noted about legacy characters being brought back for remakes, sequels or requels (however you perceive it).
Green’s biggest problem with this direct sequel to the original is that the stakes don’t feel urgent. Yes, you do have two girls who become possessed after going missing. It feels too quick. The buildup of suspect is lacking greatly and it sucks the overall impact that a movie of this magnitude is expected to deliver. The suspense does not ramp up, it feels stagnant once you get near the end of the second act, and the big climax, while there are some shocking moments, there is not that iconic head spinning, that vomiting, that spider-crawl, the use of the crucifix, I mean I can continue to discuss iconic moments from the first movie I cannot do that for this sequel.
There is also that issue with the narrative trying to juggle that theme of conflicting religions that just becomes too confusing and annoying as a viewer. I didn’t hate “The Exorcist: Believer” I just wanted a bit more out of a movie that was doing its best to outdo a film that was nominated for 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture. This flick doesn’t come anywhere close to that, but it does entertain a bit.