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Nathan Weinbender reviews "The Exorcist: Believer"

Film still of Lidya Jewett as Angela in The Exorcist: Believer (2023).
The Exorcist: Believer, Blumhouse Productions/Morgan Creek Entertainment/Rough House Pictures/Universal Pictures, 2023.
Film still of Lidya Jewett as Angela in The Exorcist: Believer (2023).


Like an ancient evil unearthed and again unleashed upon an unsuspecting public, a new Exorcist movie is out in theaters. And like just about every demonic possession movie released in the wake of the 1973 original, it's a tedious recitation of scripture, hitting the same beats but capturing none of the atmosphere of an enduring work of art. If ever a screenplay could have used an actual exorcism, it’s this one.

Believer is apparently the first in a planned trilogy of Exorcist films from director and co-writer David Gordon Green, who previously rebooted the Halloween franchise. Those movies were financially successful but divided critics and fans, and as wildly uneven as they were, they nonetheless contained some intriguing, provocative ideas.

Green’s first Exorcist film, meanwhile, has no ideas.

Believer stars Leslie Odom Jr. as the single father of a 13-year-old daughter named Angela, who one day disappears into the woods with her classmate, Katherine. They’re missing for several days, and when they suddenly reemerge miles from home, they think they’ve only been out there for a couple hours.

Because we know the title of the movie we’re watching, we also know that something is most certainly not right with these girls. Angela and Katherine begin spitting blasphemy and attacking their parents and so must be strapped to their bedposts. Victor is the pragmatic one, convinced there’s a scientific explanation to this behavior. But Katherine’s evangelical parents (played by Jennifer Nettles and Norbert Leo Butz) are certain it’s possession, and they eventually get Victor to help them assemble a supergroup of faith healers to team up for a dual exorcism.

In its broad strokes, The Exorcist: Believer is merely playing a game of one-upmanship with the first Exorcist—now we get two possessions for the price of one!—which would be tedious enough. But Green’s attempt to imbue this material with a righteous, borderline idealistic tone is shockingly misjudged, and he closes the movie with a pair of endless monologues that spell out his big themes, presumably for anyone in the audience who might have dozed off earlier.

This wasn’t the case with The Exorcist, directed by the late William Friedkin from William Peter Blatty’s bestseller. It isn’t really a story about possession but rather the nature of faith and all the contradictions that come with it. It is also a film of aching, bone-deep sadness, expressed so beautifully in the remarkable performances of Ellen Burstyn and Jason Miller as the desperate mother and the priest who believes God has abandoned him.

The characters in this movie don’t feel like they’re enduring an exorcism but the machinations of an exorcism movie. Burstyn herself reprises her role as Chris McNeill, and it’s great to see her again—until it isn’t. What this movie does to her character is not only offensive, it’s also deeply stupid. Burstyn reportedly agreed to be in this movie so she could donate her salary to a scholarship fund; so sometimes good really can come of evil.

It might seem like all I’m doing is comparing The Exorcist: Believer to its namesake, and surely no one expected it to stack up to one of the most influential films ever made. But Believer invites those comparisons itself, and even if this is your first Exorcist film, you’ll still be bored out of your skull. If the original Exorcist masterfully conjured dread and despair, then this new one trips over its own feet and goes tumbling down a long, long flight of concrete steps.

For Spokane Public Radio, I'm Nathan Weinbender.


Nathan Weinbender is one of the film critics heard on Spokane Public Radio’s Movies 101, Friday evenings at 6:30 PM here on KPBX.

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  • On this week’s show, Dan Webster, Nathan Weinbender, and Mary Pat Treuthart discuss a pair of films that explore very different notions of horror. One is the big screen franchise entry “The Exorcist: Believer,” released on the 50th anniversary of the late William Friedkin’s first in what became a staple horror series. The other is the turbulent domestic/business drama “Fair Play.”