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“The Exorcist: Believer” review: Not today, Satan

Director David Gordon Green’s oddly cautious reboot of the “Exorcist” franchise, the first of a planned trilogy, comes under the title “The Exorcist: Believer.” And we do this when it comes to faith in money.

Green recently completed the “Halloween” trilogy. starting well enoughAnd I did a lot. The second went sideways, not collapsing, but the finale, “Halloween Kills,” landed with a snowy hit. more sarcastic exercises inside Anyway Lately in commercial film production.

Could Green chart a different route with this trilogy? “The Exorcist: Believer” is the work of a talented, efficient, mid-budget success story. There was a period when Green, who gave his career a new direction with the popularity of “Pineapple Express” in 2008, made tiny, unique, non-profit gems such as “George Washington” and “Snow Angels”. I miss David Gordon Green. I miss the eccentric assurance and immersive sense of discovery of the earlier works. If with the next two “Exorcists” he can somehow figure out how to tap into that filmmaker and accomplish demonic possession more than just hitting signs and implementing jump scares (two or three excellent ones here), then who knows? Maybe we’ll have living, breathing movies.

The premise here, as laid out by co-writers Green and Peter Sattler, gets off to a good start, and indeed “The Exorcist: Believer” is a pretty solid thing for an hour. Set in Haiti, the prologue puts photographer Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom Jr.) in a dire situation: After a terrible earthquake, well-prepared for street-level chaos and with minimal digital effects, doctors tell Victor he can opt for rescue. the life of his fatally injured pregnant wife Sorenne (Tracey Graves) or their unborn daughter. As Sorenne takes his last breath, he says, “Protect her.”

Thirteen years later, in a quaint Georgian town, Victor and his daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett) live a careful, methodical, and emotionally connected life. On an ill-fated day after school, Angela and her religious friend Katherine (Olivia O’Neill) head into the woods, where they mess around with some necromancy and, for Angela, communicate with her long-dead mother. Three days later, their parents are found in a barn, delirious with panic, with no memory of where they are or what happened. But the audience knows because the audience has probably seen the “Exorcist: Believer” poster: a conscious callback to Linda Blair’s demonic face, this time with two possessed teenage girls instead of one.

Doubling down on the possessions, the film zigzags towards its finale and involves the struggle of various heart-sick and distraught adults against the devil. “The Exorcist: Believer” casts a Catholic priest for old times’ sake, but this time we’re dealing with a multi-denominational crew of well-intentioned amateurs. (Just like a book club gone awry.) The adults include Ann Dowd, Victor’s surly neighbor, a nurse and onetime Catholic novitiate; Katherine’s devout Baptist parents (Norbert Leo Butz and Jennifer Nettles); Victor’s Pentecostal friend Stuart (Danny McCarthy, a longtime member of Chicago’s A Red Orchid Theatre); and from the sidelines, it’s more or less Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil, poor Regan’s mother from the 1973 movie “Exorcist” that started all this.

Burstyn hasn’t made an “Exorcist” since director William Friedkin’s hit 1973, and the way the story handles his return as Chris makes you hope the payday is worth it. It’s welcomed, of course, but it’s treated as callously as Jamie Lee Curtis’s character in “Halloween Kills.” Many horror fans will probably watch “The Exorcist: Believer” for a while; Green and his editor Timothy Alverson establish a tense, abrupt cutting rhythm for both scenes of chaos and moments of dropping the child off at school. Green loves the slow zoom technique, very ’70s, and a constantly moving camera, so you’re never quite sure whether what we’re watching is an opening shot, the beginning of a full scene, or a spoof. In fact, in some ways, this movie feels like it predated “The Exorcist” by a year or two. The level of gore probably isn’t what most of the target audience expected to find here, because after all, they found it in the original.

Everyone has their own context for this material; I write this as someone who believes the original Friedkin movie is effective, yes, and an arguably wise lesson in how to secure an R rating for X-level serious depravity. (It helps to have lots of Catholic counselors in your demon possession horror movie.)

For millions of people around the world, Friedkin’s film was much more than that. Clearly, director Green had no intention of matching the extremes we saw in 1973. We’ll likely see more of these excesses in the next two of the reboot trilogy. “The Exorcist: Believer” feels adequate, which means it’s disappointing; It works for a while, then by the halfway point it stops working, and the climax of the gang exorcism isn’t really much of a thing. Odom Jr., the film’s nominal lead, appears detached and underreacts under the guise of buried grief. An important supporting character, the root woman Dr. Beehibe (Okwui Okpokwasili) joins the fight against Satan when he is needed most – but Gordon’s visual conception and staging of the exorcism falters. And if there’s one thing die-hard fans of demonic possession want from an “Exorcist” movie, it’s an exorcism worth some screen time.

In the years immediately before and immediately after the original ’73 “Exorcist,” a handful of gritty, disturbing horror films went “too far” but miraculously justified each risk by style or, in some cases, a conscious omission. from slipperiness. “Night of the Living Dead,” 1968. “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” 1974. “Suspiria,” 1977. These still make sense as horror movies. For millions of people, Friedkin’s film tops them all; The special effects remain unquestionably paragons of the pre-digital age. “The Exorcist: Believer” has its moments, but we’ve been through this kind of thing for half a century. And the filmmaker in charge needs to show us something new; There’s more to life and going to the movies than soaking in precious memories of projectile vomiting and head-spinning.

“The Exorcist: Believer” — 2 stars (out of 4)

MPA rating: R (for some violent content, disturbing images, language and sexual references)

Running time: 1:51

In theaters now.

Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.

mjphillips@chicagotribune.com

excitement @phillipstribune



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