David Gordon Green and Danny McBride must be stopped. They may love horror but do not know how to bring horror to the screen. It’s almost inconceivable that a property like The Exorcist, which is ripe with storytelling possibilities, ends up as The Exorcist: Believer. It took three writers to come up with a decent concept: two girls go into the woods and come back possessed, double the trouble. Then fail miserably at making it interesting. There’s only so many ways possession movies can go, and you know it’s going to end up with a priest compelling the powers of Christ. They try something new and it works until it quickly doesn’t because the scenes become repetitive instead of culminating into a greater story. This movie has nothing to say.
After a promising start in Haiti, a bunch of shots that evoke William Friedkin’s 1977 film, and the trauma of missing children, we get to Leslie Odom Jr.’s puzzling stoic take of a father in… Peril? Disbelief? Annoyance? It was hard to tell what he was intensely emoting because his choice was to underplay the horror, like the rest of the movie. He did provide an excellent foil to the unsettled Jennifer Nettles whose anxiety was palpable. I won’t even the mention what they do to Ellen Burstyn which was just a disgraceful choice.
The otherworldly performances by the two girls (Lidya Jewett & Olivia O'Neill) are by the standouts in the film. They bring a raw, urgency to the possessions that evoke a deep sense of fear and anguish and match and exceed the best moments of Linda Blair's 1977 performance. The screenplay fails them by giving them rehashed lines and basically little to do. They become side shows to a runaway script that chooses to focus on other things.
The second half of the movie becomes one sermon after another (so sorry Ann Dowd) and it’s flat, humorless and loses all sense of dread or fright. I found myself wanting more of startle scares from the first half (including a blatant Insidious rip-off moment). This is a soulless sellout that rehashes well-known lines, instead of coming up with iconic new ones, and it saddens me to think what the next planned installment, The Exorcist: Deceiver, may bring.
Note: Want to see a good sequel? Check out the superior TV series, The Excorcist, that originally aired on Fox and currently streaming on Hulu. It manages to capture all the mood, dread, and shocking visuals that made the original film such a horror masterpiece, while also being a better direct sequel to 1977 film.