It’s been pretty much the consensus that “The Exorcist” is one of those rare lightning in the bottle cinematic achievements that has yet to find a contemporary in its massive sub-genre. Over the years, studios have fought to build a classic in the same vein, and now Blumhouse has tried their hand at continuing the cinematic adaptation of “The Exorcist.” While its arrival has pretty much squashed any and all attempts at forward momentum that the “Halloween” movies had, “Believer” actually ends up as a pretty okay reboot. It’s by no means as terrible as “The Heretic” but David Gordon Green has a lot to do if he hopes to achieve any kind of success with the next two films in his series.
At this point whether or not there will be a follow up remains to be seen.
Victor, a famed photographer is still reeling from the horrible death of his pregnant wife during a massive earthquake in Haiti. Years later, Victor is left to raise his daughter Angela on his own living in Atlanta, Georgia. The mild mannered thirteen year old Angela (Lidya Jewett) ventures off with her best friend Katherine (Olivia O’Neill) for a study session, which ends up with the pair delving deep in the woods, attempting to communicate with a spirit. After going missing for three days, the pair emerges completely different both mentally, and emotionally. Attributing it to trauma, Victor is horrified to discover Angela is possessed by a demonic entity. To make things worse, Angela’s best friend Katherine is also possessed, and the entity controlling them has their own ulterior motives.
“Believer” isn’t the complete disaster that many pegged it as upon its arrival. While it’s not a masterpiece, or even a great movie, there’s so much here that David Gordon Green should have further fleshed out and realized. The stark direction and foreboding dread is completely botched in favor of what feels like an extended pilot for a TV show. All the while the production shoots itself in the foot. We know that the studio is planning a trilogy like the aforementioned “Halloween” movie series, so everything here feels so low stakes and low impact. Even films in a series given a proper resolution often feel like they’re really just leading in to the next chapter, and “Believer” is hindered by that theme. To his credit, David Gordon Green is very good at creating not only the inherent conflict, but also in exploring the idea of strength and faith, as opposed to someone whose faith was shaken.
Rather than a pair of priests with opposite ideas of faith and God, this time it’s the family that have to come to terms. Katharine’s parents are staunch Catholics insistent on raising her in the church, while Victor’s absolutely jaded with any concept of religion after his tragedy. This prompts an inner turmoil during the exorcism that just wasn’t explored as much as it should have been. Gordon Green tries to create this whole game of tug and war between ideologies, and religious beliefs all in a pursuit to save the girls, which the demon preys upon. But there nearly aren’t nearly enough emotional stakes set down. This is also because Angela gets the primary focus of the pair of girls possessed, while Katherine gets minimal screen time, and almost no real focus in her feelings toward her strict religious upbringing.
Only Odom and his daughter are fully fleshed out, and even then it feels like Gordon Green is holding back big time. That said Gordon Green does work hard to subvert the formula in the way of the aforementioned family’s conflicting faiths, as well as the whole central conflict. The whole possession places the emphases a lot less on Catholicism vs. evil and now offers a lot more on the validity of multiple faiths’ rituals and protocols for dealing with possession, and how they can contribute. This is emphasized with the film’s assembly of various priests, and holy figures, all of whom have something they feel can battle the demon (or demons). In doing so, Gordon Green thumbs his nose down at Catholicism, bringing us in to a new territory where the faith simply doesn’t work in fighting this demonic entity.
For the most part the cast is very good including Ann Dowd as a retired nun, and Okwui Okpokwasili, who plays a determined demon battler from Haiti. I won’t even bother to mention the re-emergence of Chris McNeill as the script not only does a disservice to her character but also kind of renders her character kind of a moron. The script could have easily added ten more minutes to further build up to the chaos, all the while leading us in to an actual resolution. Because if the implications in the final scene come to fruition, than it makes this whole movie feel sadly wholly unnecessary unless Gordon Green commits to some fancy footwork.
“Believer” is an okay movie that I think will become more appreciated over the years as it isn’t the worst that this series has delivered fans. I just think director and writer David Gordon Green has a long way to go to understand what made the original film so amazing before he can complete the next two chapters of this apparent trilogy.
Now Streaming on Digital, and Still in Theaters.