The Exorcist: Believer

THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER is the new Blumhouse-produced EXORCIST sequel directed by David Gordon Green (YOUR HIGHNESS), who also co-wrote it with Peter Sattler (CAMP X-RAY). It tells the story of two 13-year old girls in Percy, Georgia who mysteriously disappear and return in a state we watchers of these movies will recognize as “demonically-possessed.” I’ve seen people making fun of that premise – “Oh wow, there’s not one, but TWO of them!?” – but I think they’re missing the point. It’s not about one-upping, it’s about creating a scenario where two families with different beliefs and backgrounds have to deal with this at the same time.

It immediately feels more like a true EXORCIST followup than the trailer had me worrying it would, because it does open in an exotic locale. Photographer Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom Jr., RED TAILS, ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI…) and his pregnant wife (I thought girlfriend but I read wife) Sorenne (Tracey Graves, THE WEDDING RINGER) are vacationing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti (filmed in the Dominican Republic), and it’s shot very naturalistically, full of vivid color, texture and people. They talk to nice locals, some give Sorrene a traditional Haitian blessing to protect her baby, they visit the inside of a beautiful church. The differences between Victor and Sorrene are illustrated by Sorrene’s exclamations about “Jesus is in this place!” while Victor is more excited to get a photo of the city from the bell tower.

Then there’s a tragedy, and 13 years later Victor is a widower, raising their daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett, “Young Katherine Coleman,” HIDDEN FIGURES, “Young Nakia,” BLACK PANTHER) alone. This is a strong contrast to Chris MacNeil in the original. He has an unglamorous job shooting family portraits, and their house is big, but not movie-star big. Obviously he doesn’t have servants and assistants. He’s even a boxer, something I noted as a signifier of Father Karras’ working class background in the first film. Unlike Chris he’s a very hands on parent, making Angela’s breakfast, driving her to school, only reluctantly letting her go over to her friend’s to do homework because he likes spending his time with her.

Angela and Katherine (Olivia O’Neill) actually aren’t doing homework, they’re going into the woods to do some kind of seance thing, because Angela wants to talk to the mother she only knows from her dad’s beautiful photos. Then something happens and they don’t come home until they’re found 30 miles away three days later, thinking they’ve been gone for a few hours.

Katherine comes from a church-going Baptist family. In my opinion the movie is pretty sympathetic toward her mom Miranda (Jennifer Nettles, The Righteous Gemstones) and dad Tony (Norbert Leo Butz, who was so good as an asshole cop in Justified: City Primeval), though they make a few questionable comments about their daughters’ friendship and Tony makes a scene at the police station, blaming the disappearance on a homeless encampment. Watching this over Victor’s shoulder I interpreted him as thinking wow, this guy is an asshole… but I’m not gonna intervene because what if he’s right? (To my dismay, Victor’s later visit to a soup kitchen supports the stereotype of homeless people as perverted creeps.)

As in the original, they first approach the possession as a medical problem. That’s always been my favorite part of THE EXORCIST, but Regan is treated by elite specialists in a time before I was born. This hit me very differently by capturing a feeling I recognize: waiting in a hospital, stressed out, tired, confused, waiting for answers from endless tests. In some scenes I thought they might be using real medical professionals, because they seemed so authentic.

They rule out a bunch of things and then kinda say, “I don’t know, they seem fine!” It takes one day before Angela flips out at home, attacks her dad and goes into convulsions. A little later, Katherine causes the scene of all scenes in church. I like the moment when the parents run into each other at the hospital and nobody has to say out loud, “Oh shit – you’re back too?” Odom is particularly great in this movie and really nails the part where they theorize that the girls’ feet are burnt because they were in Hell for three days, like Jesus, and he tells them to get some sleep.

As you know if you’ve seen any trailers, this is the first EXORCIST sequel to get Ellen Burstyn to return as part I protagonist Chris MacNeil. Victor seeks her out because after the events of part I (and, I choose to believe, part II) she quit acting and wrote a very successful book about her experiences (estranging her from Regan). Green says he was inspired by Burstyn’s own memoir, but I think it’s interesting that William Peter Blatty based the character on his neighbor Shirley MacLaine, who during my youth was better known as that new age lady than as a movie star. (Nobody here seems to know Chris for her acting.)

Rather than turning super-Catholic, Chris is now very non-denominational, having studied the overlap of beliefs about exorcism in many cultures. She also seems to have maintained the attitude of the doctor who suggested exorcism to her 50 years ago – that maybe it’s a psychosomatic solution. She mentions placebos, implying that religion can be a bunch of bullshit but having something you believe in could be good for you. I think we’ve had many examples of believing stuff not being good for the world as a whole, but it’s a nice notion in this context.

One thing I’ve noticed in reviewing the EXORCIST series is that most people don’t want THE EXORCIST to be a series. The very idea makes them angry, each followup has been hissed upon arrival, and obviously people weren’t gonna take kindly to this being announced as the first in a trilogy. I figure the dismissive coverage, terrible reviews and so-so box office were guaranteed no matter the quality of the movie, so my fear was that Green would plan for the same arc as his HALLOWEEN trilogy – normal stuff you expected in part 1, wilder more ambitious ideas in the sequels – and then wouldn’t get to complete it.

At first it plays that way, though with Chris in a more limited role than Laurie Strode. So MAJOR SPOILER COMING UP HERE I got a good chuckle when the pleasing-but-expected development of Chris stepping up as the titular The Exorcist was immediately derailed by Katherine stabbing her in the eyeballs with a crucifix. It’s so upsetting, but it’s a horror movie, it’s within its rights. I respect it.

I like that this one addresses the first film’s deference to male authority. Chris notes that she didn’t actually witness the exorcism because “in my opinion I didn’t fit into their patriarchy.” Certain doofuses will no doubt interpret this as a modern wokening of the story, but for its entire fifty years of existence there has been discussion of THE EXORCIST’s themes of scary female puberty and how its single mother protagonist sits out the climax as the male religious officials take over.

This time it’s different. Chris convinces Victor that the importance of the church is not the specific beliefs but that it brings people from a community together. He extends that to uniting the two families and their friends to solve this problem together.

An interesting supporting character I haven’t mentioned is Victor and Angela’s neighbor Ann (Ann Dowd, THE DROP, HEREDITARY), who also sees her in her capacity as a nurse. She and Victor don’t get along well but she makes an impression on him by telling him how possessed Angela taunted her about a deeply personal secret from long ago when she almost became a nun. She brings in Father Maddox (E.J. Bonilla, GEMINI MAN) to be The Exorcist, but when it’s go-time Father Maddox explains that he can’t do it because the all-male panel at the diocese rejected his request… so he hands his Roman Ritual book to Ann, wishes her luck, and stays in his car. She steps up to what she now believes is her destiny, leading the exorcism with the support of Katherine’s pastor Don (Raphael Sbarge, RISKY BUSINESS, THE HIDDEN II) and even a Hoodoo practitioner named Dr. Beehibe (Okwui Okpokwasili, I AM LEGEND), recommended by Victor’s sparring partner Stuart (Danny McCarthy, FRED CLAUS).

The makeup, the possession acting of the young actresses, and creepy demonic voices are all really well done, but the filmmakers are still up against the fact that if you’ve seen one exorcism climax you’ve kind of seen them all. So I appreciate the turn of events with Ann, because it adds a new underdog element, and since she’s a nurse and was already there to run a heart monitor, she breaks the usual science vs. religion dichotomy of the series. The other exorcism highlight for me is when Dr. Beehibe does her rootwork, freaking out Katherine’s parents until they can be persuaded of its basis in a Bible verse they like.

Within the movie it’s never stated who the demon is. Sometimes it seems like it’s ol’ Pazuzu, because it seems to know Chris. I also wondered if it was one demon possessing both girls at the same time, or a two demon buddy team. I think it’s one, and he’s a real jerk because he has this big idea of forcing them to choose one of the two girls to survive – teasing Victor about the greatest trauma in his life, prying apart the unity he’s created between the families, and even sort of echoing the worst day of Father Merrin’s life in DOMINION: PREQUEL TO THE EXORCIST. There’s no one weird trick to get out of this one. Some people won’t like that, but I think it works.

Time for the standard conflict-of-interest-disclosure-brag: David Gordon Green wrote the introduction to my book Seagalogy. But I doubt he remembers that much, and it’s out-of-print now, so maybe I’m in the clear. At the time I admired his unorthodox arc from indie dramas like GEORGE WASHINGTON, ALL THE REAL GIRLS and UNDERTOW to the action comedy PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, and my respect has only grown stronger after his decade of comedy with Danny McBride and then the two of them cashing in that clout to live out their horror franchise dreams. (Like the HALLOWEEN movies this has a story credit for Green, McBride and Scott Teems).

I know Green’s little pocket of the HALLOWEEN universe is hated by many. I kinda love those movies, but even if I didn’t, to argue that they’re less valid than any of the other post-Carpenter ones is just nonsensical. I’m sure that opinion will fade with time; can you imagine how goofy it would be to still by worked up about parts 4 or 5? Or even 6? Or even RESURRECTION, the one that’s so bad that even I’ve vowed not to watch it again?

The most logical argument against them is the purist one that no one should make sequels to HALLOWEEN. That’s not gonna happen, of course, but also I reject that attitude. Yes, Randy deserved to die in SCREAM 2, and I hope he burns in hay-ell. Sequels – great ones, crazy ones, baffling ones, okay ones – are part of the joy of horror, part of what made me fall in love with the genre, part of what still makes it fun. Every sequel or remake of HALLOWEEN or TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE – and there have been some that I’ve hated with an unhealthily fiery passion – has only increased my love, fascination and appreciation for the originals. And that’s how I feel about THE EXORCIST movies too, after this last couple weeks of immersion.

The many people out there loudly proclaiming THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER the worst shit ever are being, pardon my French, a bunch of silly billies. This is a well made, well acted, serious-minded sequel that’s much more interested in themes and ideas than gross-outs or scares (though it gives us some of those too). To act like it’s a stain on a perfect legacy when the last one was Renny Harlin’s EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING is ludicrous. And most people hate EXORCIST II anyway, so they’ve had 46 years to get over their sacred waters being polluted. Everybody needs to calm down.

I have faith that BELIEVER is an interesting movie. I’m more agnostic on whether it’s worthy of the series. It’s probly more consistent, less goofy than THE HERETIC, but it’s certainly not as crazy, and I miss that. In an interview in the new Fangoria, Green talks about respecting the sequels for taking “big swings” and says he was trying to do that too. I suppose that could apply to its religious ideas and the fate of its returning hero, but this doesn’t have the feverish, can-you-believe-they-did-that? thrill of II, or the drastically different template and tone of III, so it feels a little underwhelming. It also seems pretty restrained in the amount of Green-isms. Intentionally avoiding his usual humor means we don’t get many of the quirky little tangents that make the minor characters in his HALLOWEEN movies memorable.

I miss the urban environment of EXORCISTs I-III. Sequels can change up the setting, that can be a good thing, but I think way more horror movies take place in small towns than in cities, so that makes this feel a little more like a standard issue horror movie, less like the ambitious/pretentious/elevated approach Friedkin established.

And I think that’s related to the other thing: this doesn’t feel big like previous EXORCIST movies. The same year THE EXORCIST was made for $12 million we got horror movies like THE CRAZIES ($250,000), AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS ($500,000), and MESSIAH OF EVIL ($1 million). The sci-fi movie WESTWORLD was made for $1.2 million. Hell, THE EXORCIST cost almost twice as much as that year’s James Bond movie LIVE AND LET DIE ($7 million).

The economics aren’t there for BELIEVER to have that kind of extravagance. If we can trust reported budgets it’s somewhere in the middle of modern studio horror, more expensive than INSIDIOUS: THE RED DOOR, EVIL DEAD RISE or THE POPE’S EXORCIST, but cheaper than THE NUN II, THE BOOGEYMAN, SCREAM VI, THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER, way less than RENFIELD, and possibly less than the faux b-movie COCAINE BEAR ($30-$35 million, according to Wikipedia). Some of those may be bullshit, but BELIEVER certainly doesn’t give you a feeling of “wow, it’s an event to see a horror movie done on this level,” which I think should be a goal for anything calling itself THE EXORCIST. Since that’s something that’s just not in the Blumhouse business model, maybe they were the wrong people to give the rights to.

I would rather be saying this is one of the best EXORCIST movies, or one of the best David Gordon Green movies, than that it’s just interesting. But these are the facts on the ground. I hope I’ll have something more exciting to report next time if they really do continue the trilogy, but I’m not sure Blumhouse has it in them to go bigger and bolder – to go Magic & Ecstasy on that ass – after this reception. But hey, maybe a miracle will come along and restore my faith.

P.S. There is actually an IMDb trivia entry for this I found interesting. It says that although the demon is never named, the credits call it Lamashtu, which it says is a character from Mesopotamian mythology that preys on pregnant women during childbirth, making it an opponent of Pazuzu, who protects pregnant women. Yeah man, I hope we get some demon on demon action in part 2.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 11th, 2023 at 4:35 pm and is filed under Reviews, Horror. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

26 Responses to “The Exorcist: Believer”

  1. Seems weirdly culturally appropriative to say that all cultures can do exorcisms in a series that’s been avowedly Catholic up until now. I mean, it’d be odd if someone made a movie about how Christians can totally make Golems if they want to, right?

  2. I wholeheartedly agree that there’s no reason to oppose sequels on principle. I tend to like horror sequels the best when there is a central villain that anchors them and serves as the basis for the continuity (i.e., slasher flicks). If the source of evil from the original is not still meaningfully in play in the sequel, then it’s just not clear that we need a sequel per se, as opposed to just a new stand-alone film. At the same time, there are movies that seem as though they don’t really call for a sequel that still manage to spawn good sequels — the Romero zombie films would count, if you treat them as sequels (debatable, maybe more “spiritual” sequels).

    I the case of David Gordon Green, I think there are a few different forces at work. One is that, I was under the impression that a critical mass of people really liked HALLOWEEN 2018. The follow-ups were not as good, so, I think some luster and goodwill have eroded. This new EXORCIST film seems pretty generic and un-atmospheric and undwerwhelming. Like an IP cash-in and not a particularly inspired one. Another factor at work, and maybe it’s just me, but with these Gordon Green / Blumhouse joints, it seems as though there is the desire present these as somehow more elevated and dignified affairs than your typical part umpteen in a schlocky franchise. Just as the Rob Zombie HALLOWEEN joints had the Rob Zombie “hellbilly” redneck/white trash horror film coding, Gordon Green’s stuff has been coded as “indie” and a little “arty,” deservedly or not.

    So, in the case of these films, I think people just feel like they’ve been sold a bill of goods one time too many, and the reviews on this one didn’t do anything to change the intuitive “this looks pretty generic and derivative” narrative you get from the trailers. This is in pretty sharp contrast to HALLOWEEN 2018, which turned out a lot of people and had a lot of good buzz overall. I don’t think people are anti-sequel, I think they’re just savvy enough to know when they’re getting duped. “I’ll pass, thanks.”

    As someone who thinks the concept of cultural appropriation as a bad thing is mostly pretty stupid, I don’t have a principled problem with non-Catholic religions doing exorcisms. Notions of possession have existed in virtually all cultures, though often it has more positive and ambivalent connotations: being possessed by a bad spirit and in a distressing way can be a thing, but being possessed by good or ambivalent spirits is more the norm and is even an experience that is sought after. And exorcism has protestant Christian expressions as well, particularly among pentecostals, where it’s called “deliverance.” So, I don’t really buy the idea that this is cultural appropriation in any case, or that it would be bad if it were.

    This film’s approach sounds pretty self-defeating, though. A vague, lukewarm religious sentiment attached to a we-are-the-world, syncretistic patchwork quilt of religions tends to evoke a sense of relativism and constructionism that enervates and undercuts the whole operation. Having a bunch of exorcists from a bunch of different faith traditions seems diffuse and chaotic and lacking the singular focus and authority of a Father Merrin. I understand if one finds any particular religion (or all religions) to be lacking in metaphysical credibility, but a film like this needs to commit to some kind of metaphysic, even if it is a less Catholic and more animistic one. A kitchen sink, hands-across-America approach to exorcism seems uninspired and pandering.

    Not in any rush on this one.

  3. Exorcism as a concept is not uniquely Catholic, or even Christian. (The comparison to the Golem doesn’t really hold up, as that term refers to a specifically Jewish creature.) So what’s being appropriated? The sacred traditions of the Exorcist Series?

  4. In isolation, you could do the “everyone’s an exorcist!” bit, but in a series that’s spawned from a Catholic writer’s book about his Catholic beliefs, it seems skeevy to override his intent and change it to all religions being valid.

    If you’re *that* uncomfortable with the specific worldview of the author you’re adapting, you probably shouldn’t be adapting him.

  5. Also, they should’ve followed Alien/Predator series convention and titled it Exorcists if they’re going to have more than one.

  6. It’s not an adaptation, it’s a sequel. It’s supposed to extend the ideas from the previous films. It would be a pretty boring series if that meant never diverging from a master blueprint laid out by the first one.

  7. This is a stupid argument worth having, and I think you’re both half-right. I agree with Kaplan that it’s not nothing that this series has an explicitly Catholic worldview and that tossing that aside in favor of a generic religious pluralism tends to raise problems for the film. The problem is not that it shatters the filmgoing audience’s monolithic and deeply shared Catholic piety, it’s that it tends to undercut the EXORCIST film world and mythology. Which is fine, but then why not actually make it a remake/adaptation/whatever and not a sequel. Better yet, just make it it’s own possession film. Besides undercutting the mythology (or what I’ll just call the Catholic-codedness or whatever you wish to call what was going on in the prior films), it does not seem to substitute it with a more cohesive or compelling mythology.

    At the same time, I don’t view this as some sort of moral affront or attack of great treachery against William Peter Blatty. I mean, who gives a shit at this point? I just can’t muster a drop of outrage or even umbrage. Here is a thimble full of umbout. What matters is whether it works. And that’s the thing. If this film wants to offer some other deeper mythology where Catholic priests can be sometimes-effective exorcists, even though the ultimate true spiritual metaphysic is some deeper, weirder, quasi-Jungian thing…fine. Thrill me! But it’s gotta be something compelling and cohesive, not the filmatic equivalent of “Happy Columbus Day / Indigenous People’s Day.” Too generic, too much of a junk drawer of incoherence.

  8. Look, I just read the complaint that “an Exorcist movie HAS to be about Catholicism” as being similar to all the complaints about Exorcist II not being worthy for reasons I’m sure felt very important to the people making them. I haven’t seen this movie and don’t know if it works for me or not but if DGG wants to locate the “essentialness” of the Exorcist films along an axis that has never occurred to me, more power to him for trying. I certainly don’t see the point in preemptively dismissing it.

  9. I read about this patriarchy line before and maybe it plays better in the movie, but out of context it made me chuckle. It’s like: “Two men gave their lives to safe my daughter from a horrifying supernatural force, but 50 years later I still hold a grudge against them, because telling me to wait outside when shit hit the fan feels a bit sexist, doesn’t it?”

  10. Sequels – great ones, crazy ones, baffling ones, okay ones – are part of the joy of horror

    And therein lies the problem I expressed in the comments for the first, The Exorcist isn’t really a horror movie, it’s closer to a Bergman movie than Freddy. So yeah, when you roll out The Virgin Spring: The Next Year, More Cries & Whispers, or Winter Light: The Dark–bristling will occur.

    I mean, a good amount of this particular sequel’s vitriol comes down to old fashioned bad timing. Friedkin ceased drawing breath a couple months ago. The original movie’s pendulum swung to ‘unassailable classic of modern cinema’. For a week twitter was filled with “check out this video of the late William Friedkin jumping down some asshole’s throat”, the subject of at least half of those videos being Exorcist II. And without even going into the Taylor Swift thing, you can kind of get the picture of how this was being set-up to fail.

  11. I am not on film Twitter, but I do google my way to a fair number of movie sites, and I am unfamiliar with this narrative that there is a deeply rooted and emotionally charged opposition to there being more EXORCIST sequels. I understand that EXORCIST II got a lot of hate, and the consensus seems to be that this is because it is bad (notwithstanding some minority reports from the likes of Vern and others). EXORCIST III, as far as I know, was met with more indifference than derision and has grown in esteem over the years. I think both iterations of the prequel are viewed as not very good, with the Harlin version getting more outright jeering. In summary, we have one reasonably well-liked EXORCIST sequel that is now considered good if only tangentially (and somewhat convolutedly) connected to the original, and we have a bunch of other installments that are considered not very good or bad. Meanwhile, we also have various other recent horror sequels (SAW X, HALLOWEEN 2018, recent SCREAM sequels) that have received solid critical and audience response. This is somewhat bucking the trend from the 80s, during which horror fans had a pretty voracious appetite for sequels, while critics tended to sneer at them (and often at the originals that spawned them).

    It seems to me that present-day horror audiences (and sometimes critics) will respond reasonably well to a horror sequel or remake that is well-constructed and thrilling. I don’t see people en masse preemptively dismissing horror sequels (quite the opposite, it’s obviously big business). And I have trouble believing that at this particular point in history there is some deep wellspring of preemptive vitriol for EXORCIST sequels in particular. People co-opting and meming old Friedkin interviews is just people fucking around on the internet or digging in the crates for creative ways to express their own sentiment.

    “Preemptively dismissing” is a strong word. When a critical mass of critics and fans suggest that a movie is bad or ho-hum, I don’t think it’s irrational to de-prioritize it until such time as opinion changes. A good example is HALLOWEEN ENDS or RISE OF SKYWALKER. If you avoid those films on the basis of their generally poor reviews and irritated audience reaction, I think you’ll have saved yourself some time, money, and frustration. I don’t see this as being much different from any other case where people are telling you to stay away from something (a restaurant, a commercial product). By all means if you want to go against the grain because your judgment is that there is something in this film for you, go for it and maybe it is. But I don’t agree with the sentiment that your somehow just one of the sheeple or a basic bitch if you attach some informational value to the consensus of others.

    Probably that logic does not make sense for the Verns of the world who enjoy discovering and dissecting movies of highly variable quality and production values or those of you who talk about finding obscure special editions and restorations of old cult films. If you are the kind of person who enjoys watching tons of movies, many of them pretty amateurish or low production values, just intrinsically or to find the diamond in the rought and be on the leading edge of a re-appraisal or discovery of some misunderstood gem — well, then, I’m not sure anyone else’s review or opinion is going to deter you from that for a given film. Hell, you might get a SHOWGIRLS type effect where the hate and scorn just makes the movie more intriguing and worthy of study in your eyes.

    But if you are just a person who likes watching some movies and would prefer to have a good time and not frustrated and maybe doesn’t have all the time in the world to watch everything, there are worse ideas in the world than heeding a consensus that a film is probably not worth your time.

  12. When I saw OPPENHEIMER they showed a preview for this movie. I don’t know if it was my imagination, but I swear all the old(er) people who came out to see a historical drama were quite horrified. I totally could’ve imagined that, because all those people were probably the audience for the original, but I felt a “Jesus Christ, what the fuck was that” vibe in the theater and it made me giggle.

    I always wonder about actors interactions when they’re between scenes. I especially wonder about it if there’s some kind of connection they have in common. In this case the three parents are all singers. Nettles is a country singer and Odom and Butz are both Broadway performers. I like to think they sat around singing between takes.

    Another thing I wonder about actors is when I know they have a connection in real life to something horrible and violent and then they appear in horrible and violent movies. Like is it cathartic? They must be okay doing it, otherwise I can’t imagine they’d put themselves through that. I bring it up because Butz had a sister who was murdered here in the Seattle area. She and her partner were home when a man broke into their house, repeatedly raped and then stabbed them. Butz died, but her partner lived and there was a deeply moving and disturbing article written in The Stranger about when she testified called The Bravest Woman in Seattle. It went on to win a Pulitzer and I still think about it to this day.

  13. Well, I wouldn’t characterize it as moral outrage, more the “well, THAT’S dumb” response that I recall some of the Hellraiser sequels got around here when they turned the Cenobites into Christian demons fixated on enforcing morality by tempting and punishing the wicked.

    Is it a sin? Maybe not.

    But it’s lame.

  14. Maggie, that trailer story reminds me of when I went to see THE AVENGERS, with a bunch of kids and my horror hating girlfriend in the audience. And then they showed the trailer for PROMETHEUS. You know, the one that ends with flashing imagines and horrifying sound clips from the movie over the classic ALIEN trailer siren.

  15. EXORCIST II made very prominent use of Ethiopian Orthodox rock churches and clergy, so the series has been ecumenical for decades.

  16. Maggie – Oh man, I remember when that happened. So terrible. I had no idea about Butz being related to her.

    Skani – I’m used to you rejecting all of my premises but this one surprises me. I would be interested in anyone else’s opinions on whether or not there is wide disdain toward the idea of making sequels to THE EXORCIST.

  17. I don’t think people are upset about Hollywood making EXORCIST sequels, but it still has the status of “prestige horror”, because the original was such an event that still shows up in lists of best movies of all time and was not just nominated for a bunch of Oscars, but these were “real” nominations! 3 acting nominees! Directing! Screenplay! Not just the technical stuff that even a R***ie winner can get. So of course they still hope for a certain quality.

    When PROMETHEUS was announced, nobody said “Ugh, another ALIEN movie? They need to let it rest after parts 3, 4 and the AvPs.” It was “Fuck yeah! Ridley Fucking Scott is returning to ALIEN!” I’m sure if Friedkin would’ve bothered to make another one, expectations would’ve been huge! People loved the idea of Paul Schrader making one! They probably even would be excited for the David Gordon Green who was known for arthouse indies, instead of being the man who made potty mouth stoner comedies and three HALLOWEEN movies that got an increasing amount of hate with each installment.

    And honestly, Blumhouse lost a lot of its shine too. It started out as the small studio that made fun, quality horror movies that played well with the fans and general audiences, but obviously by now they had enough misses to damage their reputation. Nobody is fully anti-Blumhouse IMO, but nobody is “Hell yeah, Blumhouse!” anymore either.

  18. I don’t Skaniesquely reject the entire premise but will admit I was expecting this to be relatively well reviewed/received like HALLOWEEN 2018 or at least have prominent and numerous defenders like KILLS and ENDS. I mean I was wrong and you were right (although perhaps the later will come in the future), so that’s evidence on your side. I also would not have guessed until recently that a Taylor Swift concert movie would be such a big Box Office draw that EXORCIST and other franchises would move around to avoid. I might be slightly out of touch is what I’m saying.

    I’ve seen a lot of people say that they should have continued the TV series rather than make more movies, which would imply that not everyone objects to EXORCIST continuations on principle, although perhaps not in great enough numbers to make a Hit TV series. Also, you know how people are with cancelled TV shows if they had the slightest hint of remaining potential. Red Rags and bulls.

    If people do have a knee jerk aversion to the very concept of an EXORCIST sequel, I’m not sure they’ve been proven wrong yet. It is a pretty open and shut story; there’s a girl, she’s possessed, they bring in the Exorcists, she’s exorcised. The two most commonly raised in defence, even if they weren’t commercially successful, are III and the TV Series, which are closer to Spin-Offs than continuations (admittedly that’s debatable for the first series of the TV series). The films where they’ve tried to build on the original story, either in the past or the future, are where they’ve really struggled.

    Worth noting perhaps that EXORCIST II wasn’t a complete disaster commercially when it came out (they made a III after all). Compared to the original, sure, but it made more than the second OMEN film, which doesn’t seem too bad when you consider how it was received. And I think a lot of people were excited by the idea of a Paul Schrader EXORCIST film until they saw it. Of course none of these films (except possibly BELIEVER, which I haven’t seen) are carbon copies, to their credit. If EXORCIST II were more of a JAWS 2 situation maybe we’d know a bit more about how much the objection is concept v execution.

    I think this does show that, for better or worse, HALLOWEEN sequels have entered the public consciousness in a way that EXORCIST sequels have not. Not necessarily any of the details of any of the films beyond the second, but the general idea that it’s an ongoing series, and that Michael will keep coming back.

  19. My main tendency is to be something of a functionalist about these things, meaning that if there is aggregate disinterest or active dislike for a film, a lot of times that’s a sign that it’s for a niche audience (in the case of disinterest) or it’s not very good (in the case of dislike). That’s not to say that there aren’t misunderstood or ahead-of-their-time types of movies. There are.

    Some of these films are just in different lanes. A film like X or PEARL does not have the same expectations or budget as a SCREAM or HALLOWEEN or apparently this EXORCIST film — so, it’s a whole different objective and conversation. PEARL made …looks like … $10M and seems to have instant classic status with another sequel on the way. It’s doubtful that a film like that could ever be as lucrative / enjoy as wide of an audience as a HALLOWEEN 2018 (hell, I didn’t think HALLOWEEN 2018 could be that lucrative), but no one calls PEARL a flop, because no one on any side of PEARL was expecting it to be this mass audience box office juggernaut. I see a film like this new EXORCIST as more a victim of its own expectations and ambitions. It was marketed as a legacy-IP, crowd-pleasing horror juggernaut, and that looks like a miscalculation in retrospect. Crowds are small and not pleased. Is that the crowd’s fault, or is it just and underwhelming and underwhelmingly marketed film?

    My issue is with being suspicious of the motives or legitimacy behind someone’s dislike of a film. I think some of this goes back to fan outrage at the STAR WARS prequels or something where this narrative kicks in that, when fans don’t like a sequel, it’s because they’re just toxic or piling on to the herd or whatever. My thought is that it’s okay for people to dislike a film, and my instinct is to take their dislike at face value and as legitimate, not to assume that they lack imagination or good will. I like HALLOWEEN KILLS, and I think I more or less understand others don’t. I didn’t care for SCREAM 5, and I think I get (or at least accept) why many others did like it. It’s fine.

    As I said, I do not question the premise that horror sequels and remakes are a good thing, it’s just that some of them work better than others, and some of them probably would’ve been better off just biting the bullet and not being sequels (i.e., be a different film in a different world). I think part of the contract with a sequel is that you feel you have something to add to *that* story. I don’t think it’s wrong for people to expect a sequel to honor the world of the story. Of course, it depends. JASON X and FREDDY VS. JASON promote themselves as a one-off, high-concept schlockfests. And I’m totally here for it. HALLOWEEN ENDS promotes itself as the thrilling conclusion to a Strode-Myers “quadrilogy,” where HALLOWEEN KILLS had left Michael stronger than ever and Laurie more traumatized than ever — then just ignores all of that. I have a problem with that. It’s not as simple as being game for goofy pivots or not, it’s about expectation-setting and bait-and-switching.

    I also agree that hyperbole in disliking something is stupid — unless it’s truly called for. The EXORCIST reviews I’ve looked at tilt more toward “this is mediocre and kind of stupid and pointless,” rather than “worst thing ever.” I’m sure it’s worse on Twitter, but then Twitter is just all emotionalized hyperbole all the time, so, I would discount that. Anyway, I think it’s good to keep exploring these worlds and taking different cuts at the material, but that doesn’t mean they all work.

  20. The unnecessary dragging of DGG puzzles me. He made the first legitimately good Halloween sequel, and I’m not sure why this Exorcist is catching so much flack. It’s a bit of a softball, but not bad (Odom is excellent here). I hope all these naysayers send DGG back to his indie roots. I miss those. That would be the silver lining.

    BTY, are you planning on seeing/reviewing WHEN EVIL LURKS? To me, I’d love to see The Exorcist series taken further in that direction.

  21. Skani – There are certain people who see a sequel as cheapening. Because THE EXORCIST is popular – maybe even more popular – among non-horror fans, it especially applies to that. Friedkin and others, including some who have commented in these threads, don’t even consider it to be a horror movie. For these reasons and more, many have a visceral response to it getting sequels. They consider it crass and insulting. My stance is that being a horror movie is cool and having sequels is part of the fun of the genre and I want to celebrate that tradition and stand up for its validity. That’s all.

    As far as Twitter, it’s the place I hear the most opinions of other movie fans, so I think it’s as reasonable a sampling of opinions to judge from as the comments here, or the letters page of Fangoria, or my friends at work, which are the other voices I hear. I suppose I should get more into Letterboxd but I’ve had a hard time making it work since I usually take a while to write reviews and I don’t want to give away what I’m working on by posting it on Letterboxd way in advance.

  22. Well, I am with you on sequels (your last statement in first paragraph)! Sequelize away! People just need to get over it.

  23. I should say that this anti-sequel thing also comes up with HALLOWEEN and other things. I just feel like it’s more universal with THE EXORCIST. But my real grudge is against Randy in SCREAM 2.

  24. I just came back from seeing this one in IMAX, and I must say I had a good time with it. I liked Green’s approach for HALLOWEEN, and his style worked for me here as well. Somehow, he makes his horror movies feel like hangout movies in a kind of pseudo-real time, not unlike AMERICAN GRAFFITI, and I dig that.

    One thing I was looking forward to was the return of Ellen Burstyn, and on that count I was disappointed. Her scenes seemed rushed to me, as if they could not shoot much coverage of her and crammed as much dialogue into the time they had with her as they could. As a whole, her storyline seemed tacked on to me, especially considering her impact on the main storyline . The payoff at the end still worked for me though. I just wish that the character had been integrated better.

    The movie seemed a bit tame compared to the original, which surprised me. I’m not sure if it’s because Green decided that that’s not his approach, or because he decided not to compete with Friedkin. Could be the latter, now that I’m thinking about it. Exorcism-wise, the reviews had me expecting a larger group of exorcists, including representatives of Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, showing up. As I understood it, it was just Christianity and a Christianity-adjacent one being represented, while the US has religious diversity abound.

    As for my personal connection to the films, I was not disappointed. Unlike the original, this one offers a deliberate secular interpretation, and built upon the original’s themes about how far a parent, and anyone who cares enough, would go to save a sick child. What I also like about the interactions between the possessed children and the adults they taunt is how it mirrors real life. Nowadays, I help to raise two boys, and the way they act or respond sometimes triggers old pain within me in a way that’s confronting and challenging. The girls in THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER are worthy successors to Regan in the first one.

    All in all, a solid 7.5/10 from me. Surely, it is making a good mint in Halloween box office with strong reviews, right?

  25. Gotta say, I don’t understand what’s so bad about this movie. THE EXORCIST has never been a fave of mine (I wasn’t raised with religion so it didn’t get under my skin), and maybe it’s those who revere the original that are most upset with this. But it’s a functional horror sequel. DGG’s naturalism toward his actors and environments gives the movie a distinctive flavour, even if the movie isn’t really doing much to rethink the franchise legacy. Like, nothing here is EMBARRASSING. People need to chill.

  26. My local cinema finally showed this film weeks after everywhere else so I had a chance to see it.

    My take on it is that the film is enjoyable but not unique. I liked the idea of the very flawed community trying to solve the problem and not realising just how horrific it would be. The problem for me with the film is that it feels unfinished. I know there were reshoots and get the sense of characters being cut to the bone to throw in more gore, so there is far less build in horror and in character reactions than there needs to be to make the horror effective. The end sequence needed more in character to show just how they were being messed with by the demon, instead of some of the Exorcist tropes, which didn’t feel unique and creepily tied to the characters. basically the first half seemed better paced and the second half seemed to have chunks missing that kept pulling me out of the story.

    I would rather watch Exorcist 2 (either cut), 3 (either cut), or Dominion over it but its far superior to Exorcist Beginning. I liked the different religions take on it, which as pointed out in other comments, goes all the way back to The Heretic but really it goes back to the first one where they are digging in Iraq to the past of a different culture.

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