The Exorcist: Believer review – A fresh, albeit uneven, head spin

Daisy Phillipson
Lidya Jewett and Olivia O'Neill as Angela and Katherine in The Exorcist: BelieverUniversal Pictures

David Gordon Green gambles with William Friedkin’s demonic lore, ushering in a new era with The Exorcist: Believer, a movie that conjures a harmonious blend of reverence for the original and a fresh, albeit uneven, new narrative. Here is our spoiler-free review. 

50 years since the late, great William Friedkin’s The Exorcist haunted our collective psyche, Blumhouse and director David Gordon Green have entered the chat with The Exorcist: Believer, the first of a planned trilogy based on the demonic MVP. Venturing into this sacred horror terrain is always a gamble, especially considering the mixed legacy left by the franchise’s sequels. 

Article continues after ad

While the original 1973 film set a gold standard for horror, the subsequent sequels varied in impact. Exorcist II: The Heretic struggled with its coherence, leaving audiences perplexed more than petrified. Then came The Exorcist III, an underrated sequel in many ways. Later entries Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist had their moments, they were dull at best and laughable at worst, failing to capture the essence that made the original a classic. 

The Exorcist series, though short-lived, was a triumph in horror TV due to the fact that it honored Friedkin’s style while carving out its own space within the universe. And this brings us to Believer. Arguably no horror movie will ever match up to the OG, but at the very least, Believer gracefully carves a new spin on the franchise – although it’s best to leave expectations at the door.

Article continues after ad

New characters meet a familiar face

The Exorcist: Believer opens with a reference to its predecessor, as two dogs fight in the streets of Haiti, their growls permeating the scene as they clash amongst bustling crowds. Though it’s a different setting to Father Merrin in Iraq, it captures the same feeling: of forces bigger than ourselves at play. 

In Haiti, lead character Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom Jr.) suffers a catastrophe that shapes the story as his pregnant wife dies in an earthquake. Prior to this, we see a local blessing ritual, teasing the film’s incorporation of both Catholicism and different religious perspectives, which plays a big role as the story progresses and introduces a new take on the franchise. 

Article continues after ad

Following the opening sequence, the narrative cuts to America 12 years later, as Victor raises his daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett) as a single parent. Echoing the themes of Rob Savage’s The Boogeyman, their relationship is fraught with grief and loss, as Victor navigates single-parenthood, and the complexities of raising a teenage daughter in a world brimming with unseen threats.

His world is thrust into disarray once more when Angela and her friend Katherine (Olivia O’Neill) go missing in the woods, only to emerge three days later with no memory of what happened to them. Demonic forces come into play in the days that follow, forcing Victor to question his entire belief system and seek out the help of the one and only Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn).  

Article continues after ad

Legacy will be The Exorcist: Believer’s glory or its downfall 

Even before The Exorcist: Believer’s release, the decision to bring back MacNeil demonstrates the film’s connection to its legacy. Ellen Burstyn proves once again that she’s got what it takes to carry a role of this weight. She doesn’t simply rest on her icon status; instead, Burstyn delivers a performance that reflects the force of her traumatic experiences from five decades ago.  

Sign up to Dexerto for free and receive:
Fewer Ads|Dark Mode|Deals in Gaming, TV and Movies, and Tech

But this is far from the only tribute. Believer is chock full of reimaginings of classic moments, from a twist on the iconic head-rotation trope to that crucifix scene. Whether this is Believer’s glory or its downfall is yet to be seen. Much like Green’s divisive Halloween films, there’s a great deal of apprehension towards his Exorcist trilogy. Arguably the most significant concern is if the film relies too heavily on legacy when it simply doesn’t match up to the original. 

Article continues after ad
Ellen Burstyn reprises her role as Chris MacNeil in The Exorcist: BelieverUniversal Pictures
Ellen Burstyn reprises her role as Chris MacNeil in The Exorcist: Believer

In this sense, the fans are right. Much like the other sequels, The Exorcist: Believer is far from reaching the impact of Friedkin’s supernatural tour de force. But perhaps it’s best to leave expectations at the door. As a standalone horror, scribes Green and Peter Sattler have carved a unique new spin on a classic tale, melding traditional Catholic faith with alternative spiritual practices while making Victor and Angela’s relationship – and shared trauma – its emotional backbone. 

Handling the problem with Exorcist sequels

Though the reliance on CGI might sometimes detract from the raw, palpable terror that practical effects can evoke, Believer offers moments of visually stunning horror. This is bolstered by the young cast’s performances, with Lidya Jewett and Olivia O’Neill as possessed duo Angela and Katherine managing to encapsulate the sheer terror of Linda Blair’s Regan as they succumb to their possessions. There are also some genuine jumpscares and gnarly gore. 

Article continues after ad
Lidya Jewett is impeccable as AngelaUniversal Pictures
Lidya Jewett is impeccable as Angela

Where Believer suffers is in its climax. Things get a little silly and muddled in their execution, and certain characters make some baffling decisions, culminating in a conclusion that generates more questions than answers. However, there is an effective reveal right at the very end, and these unresolved plot points could be explained in the already planned second and third film in Green’s Exorcist trilogy.

The main issue is the same with any Exorcist sequel – we’ve seen it done before but better. But the ensemble cast delivers commendable performances, including the likes of Leslie Odom Jr. and Ann Dowd. The interplay between Victor and his daughter provides some of the film’s most emotionally resonant moments. And there’s plenty of homage mixed with new ideas and some genuinely creepy moments. 

Article continues after ad

The Exorcist: Believer review score – 3/5

The Exorcist: Believer finds itself in a challenging position. It attempts to both honor its roots and forge a new path, resulting in a sometimes disjointed experience. It’s not all shadow, though. While it doesn’t capture the sheer horror and dread of its predecessor, it holds its own as a decent entry in the long-standing franchise. For those who can overlook its inconsistencies and revel in the occasional cheese, there’s enjoyment to be had.

You can read more about The Exorcist: Believer here, and check out some of our other horror coverage below:

Article continues after ad

How many Saw movies are there? | LGBTQ+ horrors | How to watch Evil Dead Rise | Terrifier 3 | The Boogeyman ending | Tin and Tina explained | The Thing 2 | Is The Pope’s Exorcist true story? | How to watch M3GAN | Paranormal Activity in order

Related Topics

About The Author

Daisy is a Senior TV and Movies Writer at Dexerto. She's a lover of all things macabre, whether that be horror, crime, psychological thrillers or all of the above. After graduating with a Masters in Magazine Journalism, she's gone on to write for Digital Spy, LADbible and Little White Lies. You can contact her on daisy.phillipson@dexerto.com