By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

Have faith in ‘The Exorcist: Believer’

Lidya Jewett (Left) and Olivia O’Niell (Right) mid-exorcism Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

50 years after the release of the original masterpiece, Pazuzu returned to terrorize new blood in “The Exorcist: Believer,” released on Oct. 6. “The Exorcist: Believer” marks the fourth consecutive collaboration between director David Gordon Green, writer Danny McBride and producer Jason Blum, CEO of horror giant Blumhouse Productions. Previously that group had directed, written and produced the most recent trilogy of the “Halloween” movies. 

Gordon Green’s venture into the “Halloween” franchise was a mixed bag. I was a fan of his first “Halloween” upon its release, but it has soured on me after repeat viewings. The sequels “Halloween Kills” and “Halloween Ends” have had an opposite effect on me, as I grow more appreciation for them as time passes after having initial disdain towards what they were trying to do. 

When I initially watched the original “The Exorcist”, I was not a fan. I found it boring and didn’t really understand what all the hype was about. I was also 16. I rewatched it this past Friday and was absolutely floored. I was astounded by not just the horror elements of the movie, which still hold up, but the drama as well. For my money, it’s one of the ten best movies ever made. 

“The Exorcist: Believer” is not one of the ten best movies ever made. In fact, I don’t even know if it’s one of the ten best movies of the year. However that isn’t to say that it’s bad at all, I actually think it’s the best of Gordon Green’s legacy sequels. 

“The Exorcist: Believer” follows the possession of two pre-teen girls, Katherine and Angela, played by Olivia O’Niell and Lidya Jewett respectively. Upping the ante in theory from the single girl possessed in the original. Angela’s family consists of just her and her father. Her mother leaves the picture early in the film after a very morally confusing prologue which involves Angela’s father Tanner, played by Leslie Odom Jr., forced to make his first impossible choice of the movie.

Since Gordon Green got his foot in the door with “Halloween,” he’s made a real effort to include real thematic value to his films. His films act as a sort-of trojan horse under the guise of these big franchise films for what he really wants to talk about; whether that is mob-justice, the inevitability of evil, people’s need to hate something or in the case of this new film: Faith (and abortion ethics, maybe?). 

Has he been entirely successful in his endeavors? No, I don’t think so. His tackling of these themes is often messy and all of his re-quels have been deeply flawed, but they’re equally ambitious and I can’t help but be drawn to that. 

The original “The Exorcist” is all about regaining your faith, whether it’s been entirely lost or simply led astray. “The Exorcist: Believer” revisits this in ways that feel derivative of the original, but also introduce some new layers. It’s incredibly conflicting. Tanner is vocally an atheist in the film, losing his faith after the incident in the prologue. He dismisses the idea of possession and sends people who have come to bless his then-missing daughter’s bedroom packing. Katherine’s family are all vocally religious, attending church every Sunday as baptists. 

This raises a very interesting dynamic between the two families: faith vs. disbelief. This dynamic raises compelling questions too: Are you a believer? You claim to be, but are you? You claim you aren’t, but do you? How hard are you willing to believe? Enough to not make a deal with the devil? All of this challenges our characters to face their faith, or lack thereof, head-on. 

Returning from the original film is legendary actress Ellen Burstyn as Chris McNeil, mother to the original of Pazuzu’s victims Regan McNeil. The treatment of Burstyn’s character here is strange to say the least, and is clearly in vain of the direction Gordon Green took Laurie Strode in the “Halloween” films, specifically in “Halloween Kills,” for better and for worse. 

Green makes some extremely bold choices with McNeil’s character, which are often in dialogue with the original film, but it feels like something maybe got lost in translation. They were incredibly effective in the moment, if not ultimately seeming bizarre, and they appear to be a direct set-up for the next film. Which brings up the fact that this is an incomplete story. 

“The Exorcist: Deceiver” is currently set for release on April 15, 2025, and another final film in this new trilogy is seemingly in development as well. Blumhouse Productions and Universal Studios spent $400M acquiring the rights to the franchise, so it’s fair to say that they will be going through with this trilogy regardless of the critical or commercial success of “The Exorcist: Believer”. There are a lot of decisions made by both the filmmaker and the characters that lead fairly naturally into another installment, but this leaves the end of the film feeling somewhat underwhelming. 

Is it a good idea for the most precious horror stories in the history of Hollywood to be entrusted to one man? I don’t think so. I don’t even really think he does either, as he has commented that he’s unsure if he will be returning to head “The Exorcist: Deceiver”. Is it good for the industry for the tentpole horror event of the year – every year – to come from the same studio, the same director and the same writers? No, not at all. I would go as far to say it objectively isn’t, but Gordon Green remains committed to giving us as an audience the unexpected and in this current Hollywood landscape, that’s admirable. 

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