50 years after the release of the classic horror film The Exorcist (1973), The Exorcist: Believer (2023) brings a revamped version to the big screen. For film fanatics like myself, it’s difficult to be open to new-age remakes or continuations of classic films – especially horror. The Exorcist Believer definitely pays homage to the original in its own way and was an anticipated horror release, but for me it lacked the…intensity as the former. Regardless, I had the entire theater to myself to fully absorb the aspects of this film and enjoyed my time spent reclined while the surprisingly heart-felt story unfolded.
Story – Revisioned Familiarity
The opening scene is a close-up of two dogs fighting, setting the tense mood up for the rest of the film. While Tanner and his wife are on their Haitian honeymoon, their unborn baby is blessed with a cultural protection ritual. Tragedy always seems to strike while you’re at your happiest and unfortunately that rings true for Tanner and his family. 13 years after having to make a difficult decision during his honeymoon, Tanner and his daughter Angela are as close as can be. That is until another difficult decision must be made in order to save Angel and her friend Katherine from possession.
As time progresses in the film, the girls’ states become more disheveled, more distant, and more sinister. I was never a huge fan of the demonic look given to those possessed in The Exorcist franchise, but using the same type of SFX make up to pay homage to the original movie was a nice contribution.
One of the best parts of the film for me was the connection between this 2023 version and the 1973 original as the cast comes into contact with a mother who went through this situation before – aka Chris MacNeil from The Exorcist. The biggest theme I took away from this film was the importance of community. Everyone had to work together, to depend on one another, to even attempt to defeat the evil.
This film is much more tame and more story-focused than purely horrifying, which I don’t mind. The plot itself holds a heartfelt story about a helpless girl and parent like the original but the horror aspect feels watered down. I do also wish that there was more focus on the internal turmoil of the girls themselves and not just those around them in the physical world. I think adding that in would have given it a psychological flare. Despite how critics are feeling about the film, there is already a 2025 release date for Gordon Green’s next film The Exorcist: Deceiver.
Characters and Performance – Like Father, Unlike Daughter
I really enjoyed Lidya Jewett’s performance as Angela. She had this empty, sinister stare that had me shifting in my seat from the coldness of it and I couldn’t look away. She was just an innocent little girl being held captive in her own soul by a demon and she did not disappoint when going in and out of her demonic state. Her screams were painful and heart-breaking as if she was screaming for help from the inside and her facial expressions when the demon would take over were captivating.
While she was my favorite character, her father – played by Leslie Odom Jr. – was my least favorite. I love Leslie as an actor in general, but I think his performance in this film was too simple. His heartbreak over his daughter being possessed didn’t seem realistic to me, wasn’t sad or scared enough.
Perhaps that’s just what a father’s reaction is like, especially after having faced tragedy before. It just wasn’t as hysterical as I imagine I would be if my daughter and her friend were fighting for their lives against a demon. I thought Ellen Burstyn’s, who plays Chris MacNeil performance was great too and it was comforting seeing a familiar character.
Thankfully there weren’t too many characters to focus on in the movie as it centered mostly around the girls and their parents plus a few helpful neighbors.
Cinematography and Sound – Dark and Ominous
Overall, this movie is extremely dark in color and low-lit. It makes perfect sense and I think it accentuates the evil within the film. Lighting plays a big part in this film and there is a handful of scenes where the lighting in the room flickers or goes out completely – signifying an evil presence lurking.
I also noticed a bit of metaphorical imagery displaced throughout the film, specifically in one scene where Tanner goes to the location that Angela and Katherine went missing. As he reaches over to move the rock that is covering the pendulum the girls used in their ritual (as well as Angela’s shoe) a snake pops out. In spirituality, which plays a big role in this film, snakes represent protection. If we think back to the beginning of the film and remember the blessing placed on Angela before she was born, it’s a small reminder that she is protected through this battle.
Like many other paranormal-horror films, the soundtrack consists of low-bass-high-pitched scores. I didn’t feel like there was anything special about it.
Editing and Pacing – Chaotic Cuts and a Slow Pickup
I noticed that nearly every scene in this film was a cut, which can either be complimentary or completely distracting. For The Exorcist: Believer it felt a little too jumpy at times, but beneficial in other areas. For example, the cuts definitely helped when it was depicting the difference between the demon and the real girls. Because of the dark color scheme and light flashes it felt overwhelming to watch which I actually thought helped immerse me into the mood of the film.
As for the rest of the scenes, I think it would have helped to have longer shots especially when the plot was slower. I did really enjoy one scene where Angela opens her eyes and there’s a brief point of view shot from her. Other than that, there’s lots of close-ups and reactions shots which wasn’t truly captivating me.
The chaotic camera work matches the chaos of the film, but the pacing reminds me of a leaky faucet. Slow drips at first, then faster and faster until the entire pipe bursts. Again, this matches the tone of the film but I will admit even with the speeding up, it felt slow again at times when the character’s energy didn’t match the scenario.