Play it again, Pazuzu—it’s time for more demonic possession, but this time make it a double.
The Exorcist: Believer calls a familiar demon back into theatres just in time for spooky season. Director David Gordon Green re-teams with Blumhouse after their Halloween 2018 franchise for a take on religion through a continuation of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist.
This time around demonic forces target two young friends, Angela (Lidya Jewett) and Katherine (Olivia Marcum), after they hang out in the woods attempting to conduct a seance in a hidden tunnel. After the girls return from their three-day disappearance, Angela’s widowed father Victor (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Katherine’s parents (Jennifer Nettles and Norbert Leo Butz) find their daughters changed from the ordeal as they give into the demon that came back tethered to them.
Green’s keen sense of suspense hooks you into the story within the first act, following Victor and his pregnant wife as a tragic earthquake hits during their trip to Haiti. Odom’s performance is a tour de force, embodying a man whose faith wavers after he loses his wife and whose journey carries the heart of the family drama that unfolds around him when his daughter and her friend become possessed. Giving Katherine’s family a strong sense of faith really juxtaposes two schools of thought, as everyone’s resolve is tested by the entity seeking to claim the girls’ souls.
The possessions come on aggressively in ways that defy medicine and science, and the way The Exorcist: Believer sets its fantastical elements against the backdrop of how the real world might actually react to them makes the film chilling and captivating. Angela gets locked up in a psych ward while Katherine gets to go home to her family’s care and Sunday service. Grounding their respective ordeals helps present the film as more of a believable case study than a Pazuzu mythology explainer, leaving the demons to be more of an unpredictable chaotic force—it doesn’t reveal why Pazuzu keeps claiming young girls (which is a good thing!). And thankfully, when Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) shows up, Believer doesn’t suddenly become about her and Regan’s story from the original Exorcist, but does leave us with more questions than answers.
Overall, it’s a solid first entry in a new planned trilogy that I hope continues to be led by Odom. Green’s film delivers a strong testament to the idea that there are things out there we won’t ever comprehend, but fighting each other over them will only hasten our demise; working together is the only way through. Victor is a man willing to try and fight to believe again to save his daughter’s soul. With the help of Chris and figures of various religions, the climactic exorcism offers quite a showdown—but very much a crowded one, which downplays the scary aspects of the demonic terror. If you were looking for gravel-voiced teen girls yelling obscenities and shocking visuals, temper those expectations. And while we get why Green’s film doesn’t indulge, we would have loved to see more freaky gross moments and backwards crab walking.
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