The Exorcist: Believer Review – An Unprecedented Dive into Intellectual Property Cynicism
In July 2021, Universal Pictures made headlines when it acquired the rights to The Exorcist franchise for a staggering $400 million. Their ambitious plan was to create a trilogy with two sequels exclusively for their Peacock streaming platform. The move appeared to be a hasty response to Netflix’s landmark deal to produce two sequels for Knives Out. Fast forward two years, during which Wall Street realized the complex and unpredictable nature of the streaming business, and the first installment of this hypothetical horror trilogy hit theaters. The pressure is on to make a return on this massive investment.
While it may seem a bit cynical to delve into business matters at the start of a film review, it’s hard to avoid when the same term “cynical” can be applied to the cinematic endeavor in question. Kudos to Jason Blum and his team for their financial savvy in producing the first Hollywood film written and directed by artificial intelligence. However, the end result is so lacking in originality and vitality that it might even be an insult to bots to attribute it to their influence. In fact, the “Synopsis for an older Witcher sequel” I created using ChatGPT (titled “The Witcher: Rebirth”) sounded significantly more exciting than the movie itself.
The film opens in Port-au-Prince, echoing the original Iraqi prologue, where photographer Victor Fielding (played by Leslie Odom Jr.) is enjoying a seemingly idyllic getaway with his pregnant wife. Their peaceful respite is suddenly interrupted, presumably by the January 2010 earthquake, which leaves them in a desperate situation with only their unborn child surviving. Fast forward thirteen years and Victor is now a single father to his daughter Angela (reminiscent of Lisa Simpson). Strange events soon disrupt their lives when Angela and another young girl, Katherine, mysteriously disappear one day. They reappear days later, visibly disturbed and physically altered, but medical examinations reveal no signs of abuse – one disturbing scene in the film. Subsequently, both girls start talking in scary voices and you can guess the rest. In a nod to movies like “The Force Awakens” and “Halloween 2018,” atheist Victor is forced to seek the help of Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn, who deserves credit for a hefty payday despite only appearing for five minutes), now alone. best-selling author and self-help exorcism guru estranged from her once-obsessed daughter. (Is there a chance for a fan-service cameo at the end?)
Going back to the original concept of this new trilogy, it’s obvious that this film would be better suited for a streaming platform. Watching it actually felt like I was enduring a bland movie in my living room. I found myself resting my feet on the railing in front of me, looking at a fellow party member who had fallen asleep in the row behind me, and even looking at the empty seats in front instead of focusing on the screen. At the climax, my boredom turned to frustration. The film’s climactic scene involves a young girl speaking in a ghostly voice, levitating and vomiting a computer-generated black goo – the epitome of unimaginative horror. The film is so content to offer nothing new and provide no new take on the oft-imitated classic, aside from the concept of TWO obsessed girls, that it could be considered a new low in intellectual property exploitation.
One might initially assume that the film’s subdued tone is a deliberate homage to the original. After all, part of the horror of the original came from its clinical, procedural approach (think of the discomfort caused by Regan’s MRI scan). However, this muted tone, combined with lackluster digital effects, only transforms the film into background noise for the streaming service. The film’s only notable stylistic departure occurs during its climax, when the noise increases, perhaps in an attempt to distract the audience from the glaring absence of real terror or excitement.
Director David Gordon Green and his team (or the software that created this film) fail to engage the audience in any convincing way. The only glimmers of interest come from the occasional actor in a minor role, hinting at the director’s long-forgotten southern poet phase. One might expect the director, given his background, to recognize the potential tension between two groups afflicted by demonic possession: a church-going white nuclear family and a single black father. However, as Burstyn delivered a monologue about the power of the church to bring people together to syrupy music, I found myself wondering if I was witnessing one of the worst movies ever made. It got me thinking about the state of mainstream horror. Honestly, you’d get a lot more goosebumps watching the cold open of “Scary Movie 2” or Leslie Nielsen’s 1990 spoof “Repossessed” for a dose of scares.