October 5, 2023

The devil is in the detail: This Exorcist sequel too slick to be scary

By Nell Geraets
October 5, 2023 — 2.00am
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THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER CTC, 111 minutesIn cinemas October 5??

Director David Gordon Green set himself a mammoth task tackling this sequel to the late William Friedkin‘s seminal possession horror, The Exorcist (1973). How do you follow a film that became the first of its kind to win two Oscars, a film so famous it’s immediately recognisable by just a few chilling piano notes?

Green’s strategy seemed simple: double everything. Double the possessions, double the visual effects, double the stakes. But more isn’t always better, particularly when following a film praised for its horrifying rawness and simplicity.

Lidya Jewett (left) and Olivia Marcum (right) in The Exorcist: Believer.Credit: Universal Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection .

The Exorcist: Believer, set 50 years after the events of the original, begins by touching on a fear that lurks in all parents. Thirteen-year-olds Angela (Lidya Jewett) and Katherine (Olivia Marcum) go missing after wandering into the woods, sending their parents on a desperate search.

Three days later, the pair are discovered in a barn with no recollection of what happened. Back in their separate homes, their behaviour becomes increasingly strange and demonic. Fingernails tear off, scars appear across their bodies, their hair inexplicably recedes, and their eyes become an inhuman greenish-yellow.

The families each approach the ordeal differently. Angela’s widowed father, Victor (played convincingly by Hamilton‘s Leslie Odom Jr.), initially rejects spiritual explanations and seeks medical and psychiatric help. Meanwhile, Katherine’s devout Christian parents keep her at home and turn to the power of prayer.

Each approach ultimately fails, forcing Victor to seek help from Chris MacNeil, played by 90-year-old Ellen Burstyn, the mother in the original film, who eventually guides the families towards a double exorcism.

This is when the film goes astray. The quasi-exorcism blends spirituality, homeopathy, and psychology, an interesting concept that expands on the arguably outdated mono-spiritual focus of the first. But there are too many moving parts.


The Exorcist’s documentary-style rawness terrified audiences into believing it could happen to anyone, reportedly even causing some to faint and vomit. Believer‘s hyper-polished visuals (including a perplexing demon vapour sequence) are typical of Green, known for modernising and amplifying old-school horror classics like Halloween, but they destroy any shred of plausibility.


The synchronised possession is a compelling concept, but its hyper-stylised visual sheen lacks the grit to rattle us. The possessed girl in the original, Regan, set off a wave of horror tropes: she projectile vomited green slime, twisted her head 360 degrees, masturbated using a crucifix and repeatedly hissed obscenities.

The possessed pair in Believer are, at best, a restrained version of this. They look scarier than they act and nothing that comes out of their mouths is quotable.

In Believer‘s defence, it raises questions about belief and possession across cultures in a way the franchise’s other prequels and sequels (released from 1977 to 2005) never could. And its brief allusions to the original, including a twist on the 360 head spin (pun intended), are a subtle wink rather than a slap over the head.

But it falls into the same trap as many other nostalgia remakes: in trying to honour and not outpace the original, it becomes too restrained, too polished.

The Exorcist: Believer is in cinemas from October 5.

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Nell Geraets is a Culture and Lifestyle reporter at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.Connect via Twitter or email.


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