Exorcist: Believer. The Horror Movie With heart. WARNING: SPOILER ALERT!

WARNING. Regan says do not read on if you want to stay away from spoilers for Exorcist: Believer. I will not take any responsibility for ruined cinematic sacraments…..If you are looking for recommendations, I give this movie a solid 7.6/10. It might not have pleased the critics, but was a thoroughly enjoyable watch, even if it did possibly suffer by having a little too much heart and kindness at its core.

It was a mixed bag of scares, but succeeded more than it failed. In my opinion a major issue for the moviewas in the soundtrack. We were only treated to a few bars of Tubular Bells, and the rest of the music was too sugary, too sweet and too ‘nice’ for the task at hand. It detracted from the horror, toning it down like coconut and lime in a hot curry, instead of ramping up the heat. The heart of this movie, and to be frank, the sheer good-heartedness of the director, producers and writers, people not willing to truly write horrifically but instead wanting to emphasize the good, is what appeals to audiences and repulses critics. Critics want the envelope pushed. This movie does not do that. It shies away from the barriers that the original movie broke. We have a little bad language, some disturbing content, but it is done discretely and with a gentle touch. By toning down the horror, the spiritual elements are allowed to shine. I personally enjoyed the movie immensely, even if it did not have me hiding behind my popcorn quite enough to be a truly great horror flick. It is better than the shiny plastic horror of Megan, and even outshone the amateurish and predictable possession movie, Talk to Me, in so far as it was a far more rounded experience, rather than relying on horror set pieces of gore and schlock/shock, which is cheap but effective way to mine thrills and fear. If Believer wanted to be a psychological horror it still needed to ramp up the claustrophobia and the scares. There is plenty worth watching here, but ultimately the movie was just not true enough to its dangerously evil heart.

The moral of the story? Don’t go messing with the underworld without a basic knowledge of good and evil and a means of protecting your soul, because it won’t go well…and that we are better off together, united against a common evil, than we are apart and divided. This movie is nowhere near as bad as it is being made out to be, in fact it is good in more ways than one…and for a horror movie that was born to showcase the Devil himself, that might well be its biggest problem.


If you want spoilers….scroll down and read on…if you don’t….then….don’t!

Exorcist Believer has a lot of heart for a horror movie: it realizes the supernatural, spiritual center of its long standing appeal as a franchise, whilst not losing sight of the fact that its primary function is to quicken the heart rate of the watcher and lead us not into temptation, but instead to deliver our souls from the evil that we suspect still lurks just beneath the surface. I know it has been panned by critics who are more concerned with appearing to be cultured defenders of the purity of kino, but with the people who matter, the real people who matter, the people who watch and enjoy horror without being concerned with displaying intellectual supremacy; who watch for entertainment, rather than anything to prove, this movie is a surefire crowd-pleaser for the horror season and a worthy addition to the Exorcist oeuvre.

The movie starts with a long slow burn. Scenes of dogs fighting on a beach foreshadowing the fight of good and evil and the twin possession of the two girls give way to scenes of hope and happiness. A lovely young couple, the woman heavily pregnant, on a working vacation in Haiti, appear to be in the best days of their lives. Already the spiritual themes, of intertwining spirituality, both of the folk-based magick of the Haitians, blessing the unborn child, and of the sanctity and beauty of the Church, are set up in direct opposition to Evil. A great earthquake tears apart the City, leading to the first truly horrific choice of the movie. This is a movie about the power of love, and the horror of free will. Evil asks us to choose. Goodness demands that we don’t. Sometimes we do not have a choice, and it is in that gap between free will and compulsion that the Exorcist finds its scare factor.

After all free will and being able to chose our actions, being able to choose between good and evil is the order of things, it is our birthright as human beings since the beginning of time. Eve had a choice whether or not to bite the apple. The girls, seeking out a connection to Angela’s dead mother, come up with a ritual of sorts to try and contact her from beyond the veil. Unfortunately they open the door to evil, not to comfort, and the horror begins. Their ability to chose ends there, and the evil that takes over both their souls, that possesses them, imposes its evil will.

Victor, the father of one of the girls, Angela, is asked to choose between saving the life of his wife, or saving the life of the baby – a choice that we are made aware of at the start of the movie. The baby lives, and his wife dies, despite, as we find out when evil tells the truth, him choosing his wife, not the child. This choice is mirrored in the finale of the movie, where it is reveled by the Devil, that he in fact chose his wife to survive, and the baby to die, and was given the opposite result. It should be no surprise that then, in the end, the Devil proves to be a deceiver to the group now made believers when this group is asked to decide which girl lives and which girl dies. The good father, Victor, Angela’s father, refuses to choose, instead trying to save both girls. Katherine’s father damns her by his choice. They are all made believers, and the scene is set for the second installment of this trilogy, Deceiver.

The set up to the main horrific event is set up with great care. We get to know Victor and his daughter Angela as a little tight knit family, bonded by the trauma of the loss of her mother, before we are asked to confront the evil imposed upon them. Katherine and her family are portrayed as intensely Christian and a loving little group, even if her father is blinded by Church rhetoric and blandness of belief, and her mother is mostly useless at best.

In the end it is not knowledge that saves, but love. The Church is more interested in protecting itself and quite literally, to Hell with the two girls. Besides, it is shown as ineffectual and spiritually cowardly at best, letting risk and paperwork get in the way of saving the girls both spiritually and physically. These are not warriors for the soul, but a group of self preserving men, who do not care to do the job for which they claim to be called to do. The movie keeps hammering home the fact that love conquers all, even driving out the devil. The love of her mother, the scarf that is a token of that love that Victor gives to his daughter, the love of Angela’s father, not just for her, but for the other child, that love that takes risks is what saves Angela, and loses Katherine. Angela’s father refuses to chose his daughters life over the other child and is rewarded with Angela surviving, whilst the selfish actions of Katherine’s father, lead to his daughter’s death.

It is testament to the power of this movie that the return of Regan at the end, rewarding her injured mother, with her heart’s desire – to be reunited with her daughter, even if she can’t see her face thanks to the Devil, led the cinema to break out in actual cheers of delight. People were clearly enjoying the movie and embracing it for what it wanted to be. This disconnect between what movie viewers enjoy and what the critics claim to be good cinema is a modern problem. This is not a movie which will change lives, and nor did it ever intend to be. But it is a rollicking good scary time and a reminder of the basics of morality, like all good horror movies are.

The problem is this movie has a good heart, and reminds us of the power of love and drawing together communities to defeat evil. Do we want to see people coming together, merging their traditions and their love and their knowledge and their desire to help, overcoming barriers and divisions and distrust to fight our common enemy of evil, but is it what we want in a horror movie? Do we want to know that evil is defeated, or do we want to gorge on suffering, gore and hopelessness? Do we want the core of the apple to be rotten, or do we want to be reassured that the battle can be won if we play the game right? This is an existential question for the franchise. What does it want to be? Does it want to give us hope, or does it want to scare and horrify?

To me, where the movie fell down was in its desire to not be evil, to embrace good. It never seemed to want to push it all the way. The Church scene should have had Katherine covered in blood, Carrie-style, instead of smothered in the wine and the wafer, the body and the blood of Christ and walking down the aisle of the church unbothered by the mutterings of the pastor or the supposed holiness of the place. Having Katherine float down the church, throw the pastor around a bit, and show off her possessed supernatural powers would have been far more effective. The original movie pushed the boundaries of what it made the possessed do. There was no spider walking moment, no foot dragging down stairs, no vomit or head spinning round, no abuse of the cross. It was all just a little bit American mild. The director would have done well to look at the horror coming out of Korea and screwed his courage to the sticking place. I get it. Who wants to ask these things of child actors, who wants a cursed set and a nervous cast. We do. We want the Exorcist to take risks, and this movie simply did not take enough of them. If they want to make a truly great movie in the next installment the writers and director need a pep talk and we need to get down and dirty in the business of lost souls. This movie was simply, a little bit too nice, even if it was very watchable and entertaining, it did not deliver on the scares like we needed it to.

It needed to be amped up. The director did not put his foot on the gasoline hard enough. There were scenes which could have been far more disturbing. I get it, you are dealing with child actors, but that is the point – what is terrifying is how the ultimate evil, can possess the ultimately innocent. The church scene had a lot more unmined potential. Katherine walking down the aisle of a church towards the pastor, this should have been a centerpiece of horror. Angela in the bath scene was a little more successful with the bath full of blood, the soiled bed and the attack on her father, but it still could have been more horrifying. After all, we should be horrified by the possession of two girls by the ultimate evil.

Instead, whilst it was watchable, and did not have me hiding behind my scarf, we are talking about an R rated movie of the most disturbing kind. I should have been hiding. There should have been a lot more conflict and destruction. The slow burn glowed a little too mildly. The scares were there, but not capitalized on. This is a movie which could have been terrifying, and instead kept on trying to be nicer than it had any right to be. Perhaps the writers and director was too scared to make this movie as horrific as it could have been. They appear to have been a little too concerned with good taste – taking some of the horror off screen, and not comfortable with the big and boundary testing scares. Perhaps this is a good thing. The movie is morally intact, even if it left me wanting slightly more. Or, perhaps this movie does evil and those that fight against it a dis-service by downplaying the horrific nature of the destruction of innocence and the oppression of the soul.

The exorcism itself was horrific in so far as a group of mostly amateurs, who were bound together by love for the girls and for the sanctity of human life and of good winning over evil, were blatantly unprepared and woefully inadequate for the sheer depth of evil they faced. We knew before they even started that they were more or less doomed. A cowardly priest who passes the responsibility to a woman who wanted to be a nun, except she sinned and failed her vows were never going to successfully exorcise these two girls. The parents who love their children but have no knowledge of how to fight this kind of evil allied with concerned neighbors have no business trying to fight the devil. The white-light Priestess of root magick and African American folk healing traditions knew her onions from her holy basil, and was far more adept, but still the Evil she faced was immense, and expelling it without hurting the girls, a tall order even for her.

Cinematically, the brief flashes of images of devils and demons, brief vignettes of the moment of possession, and the intensity of the palette of darks and brights, is captivating enough. We are not being immersed in horror, but rather flirting with terror. The actors move across the screen, blocking out the light, throwing the room into darkness, which mirrors the themes of light and darkness. The sets are sparse and cold. A run down hospital, a ragged home, a sterile church all leave the attention on the people, and the starkness of the choices they are forced to make. Nothing is warm and homey, not after the initial scenes in Haiti before the horror starts to happen. This is a world where material comforts are few and far between.

There are glimmers of hope for the next movie in the franchise sequence – Deceiver, which is to be released spring 2025. This movie did not deserve the panning it was given. It is a horror movie for people who love people. It embraces community, togetherness winning over divisions, love and the power of people to win out over supernatural evil, with the sheer force of Love. That is not a fashionable trope for modern horror. We are looking for desolation, fear and hopelessness. If this movie had been unrelentingly dismal, with losses at every turn, and no love for humankind, it would have been the darling of the 2023 Hallowe’en season but that is just not the movie it turned out to be.

This is a possession movie which gives people back to their loved ones. Regan’s mother gets to see her daughter again, Angela’s father gets another chance to persuade his daughter he loves and wants her, and does not resent her for surviving her mother’s death. The only dark spot, and what a dark spot it is, is the moral spanking given to the father who threw Angela under the demonic bus, believing a devil in order to try and save his own child, at the cost of the life of the other child. Katherine does not make it, making the Devil both a liar and a truth teller. He did promise one child would die, just lied about which one it was going to be. The moral heart of the universe is all grist to the horror mill, and Exorcist: Believer is no exception to the rule.

Angela’s father starts out not believing, deny the existence of good and evil as a direct consequence of losing his wife in a natural disaster. By the end of the movie, the Exorcist has made a believer out of him. So, the critics do not agree. There is a problem with a certain snobbishness in reviewing cultural material. These are our modern works of art. Movies are the way in which we communicate our hopes and fears to each other on a mass scale and are also indicative of what we believe in. The world simply does not believe in the goodness of mankind, the power of love, and how we are all better together. America divided cannot accept that even if we don’t love our neighbors to start with, when push comes to the evil shove, we are better off embracing our differences, learning from each other, and fighting for each other against the unifying but horrific power of evil. This is what the critics hate about the movie, if they were honest. There is not enough here for them to prove their kino credentials, and it is simply not horrific enough, not bleak enough and not divisive enough.

Soundtrack was a huge let down. Could have done with being a little more heavy on the horror and a lot less scared of being itself as a franchise and a concept. Set pieces were sometimes not capitalized on. The bathtub scene was almost fully realized, but the Church scene was a partly wasted opportunity for greatness. That said, it was somewhat claustrophobic, terrifying yet ultimately heartwarming and edifying experience. Love and altruism was rewarded, and selfishness and weakness was punished. Love won all, and the white christian Patriarchy took a smashing. What is there not to love about that? Cowardly priests and the Catholic church were exposed as not fit for purpose, and a few new heroes were born. Old wounds were healed and final wishes made real. There is a definite feeling in the Exorcist universe, that although the Devil is walking in his time on Earth, so is the ultimate power for good, in the various forms that takes. It moves away from the Judean Christian solution, which has so far failed, and perhaps towards and ultimate resolution of that most ancient of battles.

I enjoyed the movie so much I am excited to see what they do with the next one in the franchise, though there is some room for improvement. I give it a solid 7.6 out of 10, and I don’t care who judges me for enjoying this movie and its redeemed and gentle heart. Regan returns, families are reunited and love wins the day, at least for now. The three fathers – Angela’s good father, the cowardly Priestly Father who fails utterly, and the lawful father of Katherine who is weak in his strict and unbending faith provide sharp relief to the powerful women of this story. The girls – both beautifully acted by Lidya Jewett as Angela and Olivia Marcum as Katherine, bonded together by pure friendship and love for each other, and then also in their twin torment, are the nexus for the battle of good and evil, love and weakness. The women of this story get stuff done. Okwui Okpokwasili’s Dr. Beehibe is believable and kicks some devil behind with skill and grace. Leslie Odom Jr’s Victor, Angela’s father, is the epitome of goodness and steadfast courage. Ellen Burstyn’s naieve but kind reprisal of the role of Chris MacNeil, Regan’s mother anchors the movie into Exorcist lore.

The moral of the story? Don’t go messing with the underworld without a basic knowledge of good and evil and a means of protecting your soul, because it won’t go well…and that we are better off together, united against a common evil, than we are apart and divided. This movie is nowhere near as bad as it is being made out to be, in fact it is good in more ways than one…and for a horror movie that was born to showcase the Devil himself, that might well be its biggest problem.

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