Two young girls (Tracey Graves, Olivia Marcum) disappear and are then found three days later, disoriented and unaware of how long they've been gone. When brought home to their parents (Leslie Odom Jr., Jennifer Nettles, Norbert Leo Butz), the two girls begin exhibiting strange and disturbing behaviour and pushes the boundaries of science and medicine, eventually leading them to believe that they made be possessed...
When first released in 1973, 'The Exorcist' was nothing short of an absolute sensation. People fainted in cinemas, there was a purported curse over the people who were involved in its production, and it spawned a series of sequels that never came close to matching the original. It also inspired an entire subgenre of horrors, all of them dealing with the idea of body horror, spiritual malaise, and all kinds of quasi-religious lore that ultimately ends with some kind of wrap-up. The best of these was undoubtedly 'The Conjuring', which smartly recognised that inspiration is better than a remake.
'The Exorcist: Believer' takes a long time to get going, and smartly spends the first 45 minutes of the movie layering in the atmosphere, playing out like a domestic drama about a widower and his daughter, and the unresolved trauma of losing a wife and a mother. Leslie Odom Jr. smartly underplays all of these, and the gentle humour between him and his on-screen daughter makes the horror to come all the more disturbing and unsettling. Yet, as the tension and the mystery slowly begin to ratchet up, 'The Exorcist: Believer' moves more into a legacy sequel than ploughing its own furrow. This explains the choice of director in David Gordon Green, who successfully steered 'Halloween' out of a ditch and then crashed it again with 'Halloween Ends'.
There are some shocks to be had, and some of it does spark with the kind of twisted horror of the original, but again, it's all so predictable and so unoriginal that you're better off just watching the original than bothering with this. Much like 'Halloween', familiar faces are brought into tie itself with the fabric of the franchise. In this case, Ellen Burstyn is roped in for a few scenes, reprising her role as Chris MacNeil. While it initially sets her up as kind of Fr. Karras character, the whole thing spins away from that entirely and the final battle between good and evil and the possessed children is played out like a religious crossover event ala 'Avengers: Endgame' or that episode of 'South Park' where Buddha, Krishna, Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith and other deities appear to join forces to battle a gigantic Abraham Lincoln.
As a concept, 'The Exorcist: Believer' has some interesting ideas. Yet, given how religion is such a contentious and divisive topic in the US, it's frustrating to see just how unimaginative and how tepid it all is compared to the 1973 original. Even the sequels that followed tried to do something bold and unique - even if they mostly didn't work at all. When you compare 'The Exorcist: Believer' to the bizarreness of 'The Exoricst II: Heretic' or the blend of psychological noir in 'The Exorcist III: Legion', there's something so safe and trite about it. For a movie that was marketed on how shocking and extreme it was, the kind of tepid filmmaking that's on display in 'The Exorcist: Believer' is an affront to its originator and ultimately underlines how irrelevant it is.