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The Exorcist: Believer review (2023) - destroyed by its own legacy

David Gordon Green's new horror movie, The Exorcist: Believer, is overshadowed by the original movie and feels misguided in its attempt at a new chapter.

The Exorcist Believer review: Angela and Catherine looking up possessed

Our Verdict

David Gordon Green’s latest horror has its moments but fails to understand what makes The Exorcist truly great.

When it was first announced that one of the best movies of all time, The Exorcist, was getting a new movie, it’s safe to say that all of us horror fans were a bit anxious. The original 1973 movie wasn’t only packed with subliminal and genuinely unsettling imagery, but it was also a perfectly crafted mystery. It’s a lot to live up to, and if you hold The Exorcist’s name in your film’s title, you’d better deliver.

And, unfortunately, all our collective demon-filled fears have come to a reality with The Exorcist: Believer – a lackluster “new chapter” that fundamentally misunderstands this iconic franchise. Directed by David Gordon Green, The Exorcist: Believer is the sixth film in the franchise but disregards the canon set by previous Exorcist sequels – referring only to the original 1973 movie.

Similar to Green’s previous dealings with Halloween (2018), the new movie tries to establish a new timeline for the franchise. However, unlike Halloween (2018), The Exorcist: Believer isn’t sold as a direct sequel. Instead, Green moves away from the demon Pazuzu, throws pointless easter eggs with no story value, and makes a movie that is evidently focused on using the name of one of the best horror movies ever made without giving the new script the attention it needs.

Opening with a scene of two dogs fighting in Haiti, shortly followed by an earthquake, The Exorcist: Believer immediately kicks off with tragedy. Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom Jr) loses his wife during the natural disaster, leading him to become a single father in the future with his daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett). In typical demonic fashion, Angela’s yearning for a mother figure leads her and a catholic classmate to dabble in the occult.

However, just like Regan MacNeil back in the ’70s with her Ouija board found out, monsters are lurking in the shadows. And, you guessed it, the two girls find themselves possessed. There are graphic moments of body horror, hospital examinations, and plenty of decently eerie special effects to keep you thrilled. What The Exorcist: Believer does get right is its spectacle-driven scenes. Jewett is wholly convincing as a demonic-inflicted teen, and the moments where she is either being restrained or creepily yelling at her dad are fantastic.

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As one of the horror fans who loved Halloween (2018), I will say that Green has talent and knows how to craft gory and action-packed set pieces. But this isn’t a slasher. Constant kills and thrills aren’t the way to get scares in a possession movie like The Exorcist. The thing that works with The Exorcist is its tension, the gradual piecing together of the story, and the eerie atmosphere that built up to that final moment where gore and scares get the limelight.

And with a lack of mystery around the new demons, sharp cuts, and oddly chaotic editing choices, it feels like Green doesn’t understand the IP he is working with and is still in the Halloween mindset for The Exorcist: Believer. So, while the acting all around was fantastic, and there are a few standout moments where gore and demons steal the show, this just ultimately doesn’t feel like an Exorcist movie.

Instead, Believer is more in line with popcorn-style horrors like the Conjuring movies. And in all seriousness, if The Exorcist: Believer didn’t have The Exorcist’s name attached to it, we’d be able to enjoy it as an average cinema horror treat – because there is nothing wrong with those types of films either.

The Exorcist Believer review: Catherine walking through a church barefoot

But Universal did call it The Exorcist, and even without Pazuzu’s appearance, we get oddly placed references to the original film (remember those dogs we mentioned earlier) and even a few cameos from the original stars. You can’t rely on an IP’s reputation and expect folks to forget the original movie.

The Exorcist: Believer is strangled by the franchise’s legacy, and despite having talented actors and some genuinely impressive set pieces, it is let down by its story that fails to emulate the spirit and the finesse of the ’70s monster movie.

The Exorcist: Believer hits cinemas on October 6, 2023. If you are keen to learn all the details of the upcoming movie, check out our guide on The Exorcist: Believer release date. We also have a handy article breaking down how to watch all the Exorcist movies in order and a list of the best Halloween movies of all time.

Finally, check out our top picks for the best movies ever made, and our article on how to watch The Exorcist: Believer right now.