THE EXORCIST: BELIEVERS movie poster | ©2023 Universal Pictures

THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER movie poster | ©2023 Universal Pictures

Rating: R
Stars: Leslie Odom Jr., Lidya Jewett, Ann Dowd, Olivia Marcum, Ellen Burstyn, Jennifer Nettles, Danny McCarthy, Okwui Okpokwasili, E.J. Bonilla, Raphael Sbarge, Norbert Leo Butz
Writers: Peter Sattler & David Gordon Green, screen story by Scott Teems & David Gordon Green & Danny McBride, based on characters created by William Peter Blatty
Director: David Gordon Green
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Release Date: October 6, 2023

It would be hard, if not impossible, for a film released now to replicate the power of the original THE EXORCIST. Wisely, the new THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER doesn’t attempt to do that. Instead, it is a respectful, and often respectably scary, continuation of the 1973 film.

Director/co-screenwriter David Gordon Green also helmed and co-wrote the recent HALLOWEEN trilogy, which was a continuation of that franchise’s 1978 original. Like those three films, THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER (itself the first in a planned trilogy) ignores all other sequels.

Initially, apart from a few momentary homages to the first EXORCIST, there doesn’t appear to be a connection. After a prologue in Haiti, we’re with professional photographer Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom Jr.) and his thirteen-year-old daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett) in a pleasant suburb in Georgia.

Father and daughter have a close relationship, though Victor is perhaps overly protective. Angela has to ask repeatedly to do homework with her friend and classmate Katherine (Olivia Marcum) after school before Victor gives permission. But instead of studying, Angela and Katherine head into the woods to essentially play a séance game that ought to be useless and harmless.

Instead, the girls are missing for three days. Victor is frantic, as are Katherine’s parents (Jennifer Nettles, Danny McCarthy). Then the girls turn up, bloodied and disoriented, unable to remember what happened to them. Soon after, both Angela and Katherine separately begin to display strange new injuries and behaviors that no one can explain.

Since Ellen Burstyn is prominent in advertising for THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER, it’s no spoiler to say that her original EXORCIST character Chris MacNeil becomes part of the proceedings. Burstyn has enormous humanity and authority in the role.

Ann Dowd as Victor’s neighbor, a nurse, also demonstrates superb emotional depth and fortitude. Odom does a fine job of giving us Victor’s confusion, despair and paternal love, while Jewett and Marcum are excellent in all aspects of their roles. Okwui Okpokwasili is striking as a spiritualist who wants to help.

Director Green makes shrewd use of perspective, so that images we see are distorted in natural ways that still suggest a supernatural perspective. His pacing is effective, so that tension intensifies by increments. He provides fear in small and large doses, avoiding fakeouts. We get some visuals we expect, but they retain their intended impact. Christopher Allen Nelson’s special makeup effects echo Dick Smith’s from the first film, while added some apt new flourishes.

The screenplay is by Peter Sattler & Green, based on a screen story by Scott Teems & Green & Danny McBride, based on William Peter Blatty’s original characters from his novel. It refreshingly (at least, in this reviewer’s opinion) reminds the audience that exorcism is not and never has been the exclusive province of the Catholic Church; it exists in virtually all religions and cultures around the world. This allows for a number of characters and perspectives we don’t often get (at least in combination) in the exorcism subgenre.

Green and company handle THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER seriously and creatively. This results in a film that is neither campy nor pretentious, but simply good horror drama.

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