(from left) Angela Fielding (Lidya Jewett) and Katherine (Olivia Marcum) in The Exorcist: Believer, directed by David Gordon Green.

‘The Exorcist: Believer’ Is a Lackluster Attempt To Revive an Iconic Franchise

2/5 demon rituals

Possession stories always seem to pale in comparison to The Exorcist and that is especially true for The Exorcist: Believer. When the original film came out in 1973, it terrified audiences and to this day remains an iconic horror classic. I watched the film too young, and I can still remember how scared I was to go to bed. My young mind thought that somehow the demon could only get me if I was sleeping in my room because that’s what happened to Regan (sound logic!). It’s too soon to tell how many kids will be traumatized by accidentally watching this sequel, but one thing is for certain: The Exorcist: Believer is a cheap imitation of the original film.

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Set in the present, Believer introduces us to Angela Fielding (Lidya Jewett) and her widower father Victor (Leslie Odom Jr.) who lost his wife Sorenne (Tracey Graves) in the Haiti earthquake in 2010. 13 years later, Angela remains curious about her mother, so she asks her friend Katherine (Olivia O’Neill) to help her communicate with her deceased mom. You’re probably asking yourself why, but Katherine is a religious girl, so they go into the woods to talk to the spirits. Soon, said spirits are speaking through them and that’s when all hell (literally) breaks loose.

Why do we keep allowing demons into our bodies?

(from left) Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom, Jr.) and Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) in The Exorcist: Believer, directed by David Gordon Green.
(Universal Pictures)

The rest of the film falls into a familiar pattern. Katherine and Angela are clearly possessed, and no one wants to believe it at first. Soon, the adults come around and realize that they have to fight the demons. Typical demon/exorcism stuff. But why do we always have some young girl inviting a demon to take over her body? Or why is she always messing with weird occulty stuff she should leave alone? It was the Ouija board in the original The Exorcist film and now it is the two girls getting all Vendy Wiccany in the woods. For that matter, why do demons never possess important people like celebrities or politicians? It seems like a better way to get their message across, but I’m just (green pea) spitballing here.

The girls summon the dead in the only way they know how: by going barefoot in the woods, swinging around some crystals, and inviting the dead to speak through them. Honestly, no wonder a demon possessed them. Three days later, the girls make it home together, and things escalate. Why? Because Katherine’s parents are the worst kind of Christians: The kind who think they know the best and just make everything that much worse.

White Christians are the real demons all along

(from left) Tony (Norbert Leo Butz), Katherine (Olivia O’Neill) and Miranda (Jennifer Nettles) in The Exorcist: Believer, directed by David Gordon Green.
(Universal Pictures)

Something the movie really highlights is how toxic white Evangelical Christian families can be. Particularly ones where they have to stop and use their brain cells for two seconds. Tony (Norbert Leo Butz) and Miranda (Jennifer Nettles) are not great parents. Their daughter goes missing for three days, and the first thing they do after bringing her home from the hospital is take her to church. The best character in the movie is Katherine’s younger brother, who laughs when his sister fully loses her mind at church. To be fair, she is possessed, but still.

The core issue with Tony and Miranda is that they refuse to pay any kind of attention to their daughter when it matters. They’re bad parents, and it’s hard to feel any sympathy for them. The film really highlights how selfish families like this can be. Tony and Miranda parade themselves as a good Christian family throughout the movie, yet the entire time they’re constantly doing things to make it harder to save Angela and their own daughter.

For the most part, Miranda is the one who first recognizes what is happening to the girls. Still, it’s not enough for either of these parents to actually go ahead and try and do the right thing.

Leslie Odom Jr. can only save so much

(from left) Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom, Jr.) and Angela Fielding (Lidya Jewett, back to camera) in The Exorcist: Believer, directed by David Gordon Green.
(Universal Pictures)

Believer does feature a beautiful performance from Leslie Odom Jr., who must be in pain from carrying this movie on his back. Without his performance, there isn’t much to admire. Tony and Miranda bring nearly nothing to Katherine’s storyline, which hurts to say because I do love Norbert Leo Butz as a performer. Lidya Jewett is incredible as Angela, but she can only be as strong as the possession scenes allow her to be.

The major struggle of Believer comes with its pacing. So much of the movie is spent setting up the death of Angela’s mother, her life with her father, the search for the missing girls, etc. We only have about thirty minutes of them possessed, in total. Odom Jr. does a great job as Victor, balancing his worry for his daughter with his own pain and regret as a father. But despite his talents, he can only carry the movie so far.

And then there’s the exorcism scene, which is oddly paced and not nearly as terrifying as the original. This makes the return of Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) less impactful, and frankly a waste of Burstyn’s time.

Overall just a weird movie to bring Chris MacNeil back for

(from left) Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) and Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom, Jr.) in The Exorcist: Believer, directed by David Gordon Green.
(Universal Pictures)

Believer marks Ellen Burstyn’s first time back in the franchise in 50 years. She plays Chris MacNeil, Regan’s mother in the 1973 film, who later goes on to study demonic possession. So when Victor is at the end of his rope, he reaches out to Chris for help saving the girls.

Burstyn is always phenomenal, but the movie squanders her presence and gives her little to do. She might return for the next two chapters of David Gordon Green’s Exorcist trilogy, but this first installment does not inspire much confidence.

Overall, the movie is barely adequate for a spooky season film release, which isn’t that exciting given David Gordon Green’s past with bringing back horror franchises. Hopefully, his plans for the rest of his Exorcist series will return more to the horror and suspense of the original film.

(featured image: Universal Pictures)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her current obsession is Glen Powell's dog, Brisket. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.