Remember the scariest movie from your childhood? Chances are it’s “The Exorcist.”
The 1973 classic starred Ellen Burstyn as a mom trying to save her daughter Regan (Linda Blair) from demonic possession.
Heads spin. Pea soup flies. The power of Christ compels you to watch it every Halloween.
Now, we’re getting yet another film in the “Exorcist” saga — this, after two other “Exorcist” projects fell so far under the radar they barely merit a mention. There was the forgettable 1977 sequel and a shockingly effective third go-round in 1990 starring George C. Scott.
The new sequel, as you might predict, is both unnecessary and ultimately woke.
The good news? Burstyn returns for “The Exorcist: Believer,” brought to us by the same folks who rebooted “Halloween” in 2018, Blumhouse Productions.
Leslie Odom, Jr. of “Hamilton” fame plays Victor, a single father who enjoys a close, and meaningful bond with his pre-teen daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett). The girl meets with a fellow classmate one fateful afternoon, and the duo goes missing for three days.
When they return, they begin to act differently, and painful scars appear on their bodies. Why, it’s as if something demonic took over their souls.
Victor dismisses any such talk at first, but when he realizes there may be no other explanation, he reaches out to the only person who might feel his pain. That’s Burstyn’s Chris MacNeil, who famously battled Beelzebub in the 1973 original.
The first half of “Believer” is both restrained and effective. Odom has serious screen presence, and director David Gordon Green’s days as an indie film darling roar back with positive results. The visual cues start to stack up, and Green’s knack with his young cast members makes their pain palpable.
It’s eerie that Angela’s friend Katherine (Olivia O’Neill) looks like a young Blair – hardly a coincidence.
So we have not one but two possessed children, and we all know what happens next. Except we’ve seen exorcism after exorcism on screen since the 1973 original, and no film has measured up to its excellence.
Add “Believer” to the list. But that’s not the only bad news.
The film’s third act is a mess, neither scary nor spiritually significant. In fact, the sequel has a beef with the faith behind the original masterpiece. The Catholic Church.
Mild Spoilers Ahead:
The Church refuses to help Victor and Katherine’s parents (one-dimensional Christians), referring the matter to psychiatric professionals.
Talk about cutting a franchise off at the knees. It’s like making a new James Bond movie and having him reject both the Crown and MI-6 entirely.
The attempt to save the poor girls turns into a Kumbaya affair, with different faiths gathering to beat the demon back. It takes a village to exorcise your children, apparently.
We’re even treated to a girl power moment where a secondary female character steps in to save the day when a man refuses to do the job.
It’s at least different than the 1973 version, but it’s neither frightening nor sensible. The detour also deconstructs the powerful good versus evil narratives that anchored the first “Exorcist” film.
Who needs God when you’ve got a can’t miss IP (Intellectual Property). Producer Jason Blum, notorious for keeping film budgets as low as possible, reportedly shelled out $400 million for the rights to “The Exorcist” franchise.
The film’s setup avoids the “woke mind virus” entirely at first. We’re lulled into a false sense of security. To paraphrase Admiral Ackbar from “Return of the Jedi” — “It’s a trap!”
That spell is shattered when Chris is asked why she wasn’t allowed in the room all those years ago when two male priests battled to save Regan’s soul.
“It must have been the patriarchy,” she mutters, which might be the clunkiest sequence on screen this year. Or next.
The 90-year-old Burstyn still brings a welcome heft to the proceedings, her presence softening the vehicle’s cash-grab DNA. The screenplay, by Green and Peter Sattler, doesn’t know what to do with Chris, sadly, shackling her with a silly encounter with her old nemesis.
Why bother inviting a Hollywood legend back to the franchise if you can’t give her anything meaty to chew on?
Woke helps explain why “The Exorcist: Believer” plays down the Catholic faith and puts both character diversity and multiple religions front and center.
We can’t celebrate Catholicism in 2023, and to risk doing so might offend other religions.
So we get a cultural stew, one that adds little to the film’s dramatic weight. Had the story taken its spiritual cues from the effective prologue, set during a Haitian earthquake, we might have had a fresh cultural spin on good vs. evil.
That’s not the case.
The recent “Nefarious” featured a far more captivating battle between good and evil, powered not by special effects but a strong script and a killer turn by Sean Patrick Flanery.
Nothing in “Believer” comes close.
We’d forgive plenty if the battle for the girls’ souls brought something terrifying to the table. Instead, it’s a hodge-podge of warmed-over scares with a predictable nod to the original’s signature twist.
Ooh, another Easter Egg! That’s great for memes but hardly the stuff of nightmares.
The only thing scary about “The Exorcist: Believer” is that the studio has more sequels in the works.
Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, movie critic and editor of HollywoodInToto.com. He previously served as associate editor with Breitbart News’ Big Hollywood. Follow him at @HollywoodInToto.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.