They were schoolfriends who told a lie which got out of hand, Angela and Katherine both having said that they were spending time at the house of the other, studying under parental supervision, the deception only revealed when Victor becomes concerned at his daughter’s failure to come home and calls Miranda and Tony, the families hunting the neighbourhood and surrounding ground together.
The security footage from the school showing the two girls walking into the woods together and their backpacks abandoned under the trees, the police arrange a search but it is three days before the terrified girls are found sheltering in a barn, apparently unharmed despite the prolonged exposure to the weather but with no recollection of the intervening time, thinking they have only been gone a few hours, but over time strange manifestations begin, mood swings and lesions appearing on their bodies.
Miranda and Tony holding a deep faith, they are appalled at Kat’s inappropriate behaviour in church but insist on caring for her at home while Victor surrenders Angela to close medical supervision in a hospital specialising in such ailments where her words shock Ann, the nurse who lives next door to her home who had once come close to becoming a nun, prompting her to suggest that rather than psychological help that what is required is an exorcism.
Serving as an “official” sequel to William Friedkin’s iconic horror The Exorcist, based on William Peter Blatty’s bestseller, The Exorcist: Believer is directed David Gordon Green, presumably ignoring the intervening sequels as he did with his Halloween of 2018, set in Percy, Georgia fifty years after the events which took place in Georgetown, Washington DC in the house occupied by Chris MacNeil and her daughter Regan and written by Peter Sattler and Green from a story by Scott Teems, Danny McBride and Green and with credits which acknowledge both a spiritual advisor and a blessing coordinator.
Opening with a prelude of Victor and his pregnant wife (Leslie Odom, Jr) in Haiti, the cinema verité shots of dogs fighting by the beach and local vendors recall the similar opening in Friedkin’s classic, but where The Omen justifiably arranged the execution of characters with epic gestures The Exorcist worked on a more intimate level, striking in the home, the earthquake which injures Sorenne (Tracey Graves) and forces the decision on Victor of whether the doctors should save his wife or unborn child an unnecessary and overstated tragedy.
The increasing gap between the devoted faith demanded by religious institutions and the rationality of an informed secular society a chasm which Victor must cross in order to save his daughter, with the church no more than background dressing and its devotees one-note zealots led by a bland would-be televangelist, the crisis which should drive the film is barely addressed until, prompted by Chris’ suggestion that the ritual exists in many forms, the diverse devout perform a tag-team exorcism to cure Angela and Kat (Lidya Jewett and Olivia O’Neill) of the vapours before the Catholic Church rides in like the cavalry.
Both The Exorcist and Exorcist III having been built around grand religious imagery and similarly towering performances, Max Von Sydow, Jason Miller, George C Scott and Brad Dourif, here there is nobody to match Ellen Burstyn, coaxed back to the role of Chris MacNeill who is brought in to offer advice to Victor on his daughter and bringing honesty and authority to what amounts to scarcely fifteen minutes of screen time, but she alone is insufficient to raise the film above mediocrity.
Retreading situations and phrases dulled by decades of familiarity, the greatest failing of The Exorcist: Believer is that it has no faith in itself, breaking no boundaries and presenting no new ideas, timid where the original was transgressive, never pushing the performers, never confronting the audience or making them uncomfortable even when it suggests that all children can be monsters from time to time, and while far from the worst of the Exorcist sequence, a tarnished crown The Heretic is unlikely to ever surrender, it is generic and predictable, lost in limbo rather than damned to Hell.
The Exorcist: Believer is on general release and also screening in IMAX