A single father’s daughter goes missing and returns as a very different person three days later. This leads to him eventually believing that she’s possessed and sets him on a journey to save her and confront the evil that has her in a chokehold.
No matter how jaded I become, I am always excited about exorcism movies because there is so much ground to still be covered in that arena. They also offer ample easy ways to terrify people, or at least tap into the inherent creepiness of most religious practices. Sadly, this movie didn’t bother to commit to anything new, original, or spicy.
The Cast Really Tried
One of the few compliments I can give this movie is that it sort of focuses on a Black single father and his daughter. We don’t get nearly enough present dads on screen, let alone ones who are Black. So, I’m grateful we get that at least. However, I wish Leslie Odom, Jr. and Lidya Jewett had more to work with. I also wish we had kept the focus on them instead of squeezing in a white family to seemingly keep Twitter trolls from yelling this is “woke.” Odom Jr. delivers every time he is actually given anything to work with. Watching him live every parent’s nightmare when his daughter goes missing is sadly the highlight of the film. However, when she returns, we lose all of the tension as we put two possessed girls through the most mundane exorcism movie I have ever seen.
Jewett tries to sell the sad attempts at scares she’s given. However, it feels like all of her supernatural, or scary moments, were written and shot just for trailers and gifs. So, no matter how much work she puts into it, it was set up to fail from the beginning. Whether she’s appearing out of nowhere in the bathroom as her dad brushes his teeth, or hitting the window in the hospital, it’s just never enough to make anyone lean forward. The same can be said for Katherine (Olivia Marcum), the other possessed girl who is also given a fairly ABC Family horror storyline. However, Marcum gets the honor of removing a wasted Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) from the chessboard. This is another way this movie slights Jewett, who I believe would be the kid we were supposed to follow.
Even those of us who doubted this movie was a good idea from the beginning couldn’t help but be excited by the return of Burstyn. Sadly, her character’s insertion makes no sense, and she is also given nothing to do during her few scenes. Moments after meeting Victor (Odom, Jr), she tells him she wasn’t in the room for her daughter’s exorcism and doesn’t know what help she could really provide. Then, suddenly, she’s trying to meet the possessed girls, while the demons who reside in them are now expecting her. Right when I was trying to just let logic go for the evening, I watched this woman walk into the room of a possessed child on her own just to be put into danger. While this scene flatlined like the rest, it was one of the few to give us a little blood and violence.
Because director and co-writer, David Gordan Green, likes it when communities come together to battle evil, the actual exorcism has way too many bodies in the room. We have Katherine’s parents, their pastor, and a neighbor who introduced Victor to a woman who is practicing some Blumhouse convenient kind of Vodou or Hoodoo. She is also in the room where it happens. I really can’t stress enough that I don’t know if this crew knew the difference between Vodou and Hoodoo. It feels like they thought it would be cool to include it as they built up to the CGI smoke fighting the CGI light later on.
I’m also mad Ann Dowd was in this line-up of actors whose time was being disrespected by this venture. Dowd played another neighbor, who happened to be the person to tell Victor to seek out Chris for help. Why are there so many civilians in the space when we know demons love a party? Who can say? Most of them add nothing but a couple of unintentional laughs and further distract from the main event.
I hope somewhere there is a script that took any of the interesting side streets this one cruised past. One that makes sense and offers these actors a vehicle worthy of their talents. I want to believe that this was not the project everyone jumped at because that makes me even sadder than watching the finished product. This movie is messy. It’s a hard pill to swallow as one of the few people who tried to see the positives in parts of Green’s Halloween trilogy. During that debacle, I was able to see three stories being seemingly shoehorned into a property that they were never going to fit on. However, here I see nothing worth saving aside from a few performances that were so unceremoniously wasted.
I wish this movie had tried to do anything. It didn’t allow our two young actors to ever be terrifying, it didn’t even really engage with the religious horror aspect built into all movies about possession. The Exorcist: Believer feels like another exercise in “things we do because we can and not because we should.” They had access to a property that they knew people would show up for, they got the correct actors to answer the phone, and it feels like that’s about when everyone stopped trying. This is frustrating because I was really hoping to see the forest through the trees on this outing. However, we were given this trainwreck and told we would get another two installments. For whom are those movies? Only time will tell.
I know most of us knew this movie wouldn’t be in anyone’s top 10 lists at the end of the year. However, I don’t think we were prepared for how hard it would work to avoid being entertaining. This is a huge waste of a very talented cast, and another very low low in this franchise. If you were hoping for scares, something to root for, or something at least moderately interesting, this is not the movie for you.