The Exorcist: Believer review – New sequel is watchable but fails to break new ground
It's a worthwhile attempt at a reboot, but won't leave your head spinning.
Fifty years after the original Exorcist terrified the pants off 1970s audiences comes a new big-screen chapter from co-writer/director David Gordon Green, whose pedigree as a retrofitter of classic horror was firmed up by his terrific Halloween trilogy (2018-2022).
The recent, now-cancelled Exorcist TV series served as a direct sequel and ignored previous movie follow-ups, but it soon becomes clear that Green is taking his lead from the 1973 masterpiece directed by the late, great William Friedkin, who passed away in August.
A seemingly innocuous beginning sees Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom Jr) and his pregnant wife holidaying in Haiti, but something ominous is in the air, despite the unborn child having the blessing of a local wise woman. Cut to 13 years later, and Victor is now a single dad living with daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett) in suburban Georgia where he works as a professional photographer.
So far, so ordinary. But when Angela and her best friend Katherine (Olivia Marcum) go missing in a local wood and are found days later, relief at the discovery soon turns to alarm when the girls begin to exhibit violent, diabolical personalities that leave the authorities perplexed and force spiritual sceptic Victor and Katherine's Baptist parents to search for solutions elsewhere.
Green has peppered his lovingly made sequel with visual cues and Easter egg nods to the original's narrative (scientists and cops are hopeless), dialogue ("Does the power of Christ compel you?") and head-swivelling moments, not least when a refrain from Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells announces the re-appearance of Ellen Burstyn's Chris MacNeil in the franchise.
Tracked down by Victor, MacNeil is now a successful author, whose experience as the mother of a possessed child and the exorcism that saved her, makes Chris the go-to expert. Of daughter Regan, however, there is no sign as the two have become estranged. Nevertheless, it is a marvellous moment to see a doughty Burstyn reprising the part for the first time and returning to the fray.
The director's use of sound is redolent of the Friedkin film, which received a well-deserved Oscar and reputedly had US audiences tearing wallpaper from cinema walls to muffle it back in 1973. Also, doubling the demonic evil with a pair of possessed, raspy-voiced teenagers adds a tension which takes a terrible toll during the climactic DIY exorcism organised by the trio of frantic parents and a motley collection of multi-faith locals.
With the devilish brouhaha and pyrotechnics increasingly taking centre stage, only Burstyn, Odom Jr and Ann Dowd as a neighbourhood nurse get to add flesh to their characters.
It is clear that co-writers (and horror fans) Green and Danny McBride are paying homage to the original Oscar-winning material, but sadly, this watchable, occasionally scary chiller is not breaking any new ground in the supernatural horror field, especially with countless hit franchises (The Conjuring and Insidious among them) trading on the influence and style of a landmark movie that is still regularly included in many a Greatest Horror Film poll.
Nevertheless, it's a worthwhile attempt at a reboot, with an ending that could well be a beginning.
The Exorcist: Believer is released in UK cinemas on 6th October.
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