“What do you think evil is? I’ll tell you what I think evil is…”
It’s sequels/reboots made by filmmakers who haven’t got one single clue what made the original such a classic. The Exorcist was a masterpiece of filmmaking and is truly one of the most compelling horror films even 50 years later. There are a lot of reasons for that. Unfortunately, David Gordon Green couldn’t name a single one if you gave him a cheat sheet in one hand and William Friedkin’s complete notes in the other. Blum House took a huge risk after they finished their Halloween trilogy. The films were hit and miss with some good moments. But most fans of the original never could completely bond with the films. So Blum House decided they liked this 3 film reboot/sequel idea and took a chance on committing $400 million for a trilogy of The Exorcist. Like the Halloween trilogy it would ignore all but the original film and take it’s story directly from that moment onward. On paper it’s a pretty solid plan. Both Halloween and The Exorcist have been followed by some pretty bad follow-up films and there’s no reason to overcomplicate the mythology by bogging yourself down with all the bad that might have followed. The problem is that you must also avoid BEING the bad that follows. With The Exorcist: Believer David Gordon Green now rules the bad that follows The Exorcist. Believe it or not (pun intended), that’s the good news. The bad news is no matter how bad this film is received we’re going to get two more. It’s part of the commitment and both Blum House and audiences everywhere are stuck with it. And while they have to make the films we don’t have to pay our 20 bucks to see films. All I can say is Green should be grateful for streaming because it’s the only thing he has left after a film that could use a good exorcism of its own.
True to form, The Exorcist: Believer takes place 50 years after the events of the first film. Victor Fielding, played by Leslie Odem, Jr. and his wife are in Haiti on vacation. She is pregnant. She ends up having difficulty and Victor is plagued with an impossible choice. The doctors can save his wife or their child. They can’t save both. It’s an emotional beat and the film wisely cuts away from the scene before we learn his answer. So far so good. We jump 13 years later and he has a wonderful daughter and their living in Atlanta. Angela is played by Lidya Jewett. He has a good life as a photographer with a good studio business. Angela has a classmate friend she’d like to have over to visit. That would be young Katherine, played by Olivia O’Niell, a bit of a nice coincidence in names here. Things get a bit odd when the girls find themselves out in the woods communicating with some kind of spirit. You can pretty much predict that this won’t end well. The girls are missing for a time and the entire local community pitches in to find them.
Katherine’s parents are devout Catholics who attend church where one of my favorite television actors Raphael Sbarge plays the priest who is the Parish pastor. When things start to go a little crazy with the girls we follow the original film’s pattern of looking for medical answers. The search for “traditional” answers doesn’t get as involved as the first film and we meet young Father Maddox, played by E.J. Bonilla but never really get the kind of psychological detail we did with Father Karras in the first film. Finally he petitions the church to sanction an exorcism while the families prepare a kind of politically correct exorcism committee of various beliefs. They’re going to work together and perform some kind of hybrid committee exorcism and this is where it all goes haywire. The priest gets begged to join and finally does but this is a mess from the start.
The first mess is they invite Chris MacNiel, reprised by Ellen Bustyn to check it out. They have some really good moments together her and the demon and here the film really got me. Until ole’ actress MacNeil forgot the “Do not try this at home” warning label that comes with every exorcism and tries to do it herself. She gets badly injured and is pretty much out for the count except a forced emotional moment at the film’s end. They truly treated this character like a throwaway and then try to cash in on a tender moment at the end. Yeah it got the expected applause but it was far too late for me.
Green thought he understood Friedkin’s version. He tried to insert all of those classic moments but didn’t understand that it’s not just the elements that matter but how they are utilized. There are the odd sound f/x and a few attempts at that subliminal demon cutting but it’s all too obvious and doesn’t work here. The use of CGI for a battle of good mist versus bad mist totally ruins any atmosphere and good faith he might have had from the start. Even the use of the famous Tubular Bells music is arranged with piano and doesn’t have near the impact. He thought it was the notes that mattered. But it was the instrument and the notes that built atmosphere and that’s what’s wrong with the entire film. Green thinks that all of those compelling elements from The Exorcist are pretty much plug and play. Just insert and it’s instant like Kool-Aid.
I’m known for making a pretty famous meatball in these parts. I’ve given the recipe to several folks over the years. They’ve even watched me make it. I’m not worried because no matter how much they try they can’t reproduce what I do and none of them can figure out why. That’s Green’s problem. He used all of the right ingredients but his film just doesn’t taste the same because he was really making a modern horror film and that’s what this is. There’s just that extra magic in the person who knows how to combine those ingredients. Green doesn’t. Before he died just a couple of months ago Friedkin remarked that he heard Green was remaking The Exorcist. Green better hope there’s nothing to this spiritual stuff because Friedkin promised to haunt him and make his life a living hell. Can’t wait to see how that works out. It can’t be worse than this mess. Why? Why did you do it David? “Did the power of Christ compel you?”