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Will Ferris
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The Exorcist: Believer (15, 111 Minutes)

No one can deny what an exceptional film The Exorcist is. Upon its release, ticket holders were sprinting from their screen to the nearest bog, housewives fainted in the aisles and shell shocked teenagers left promising to get baptized the moment they arrived home. In my books, it’s one of the best films ever made, with a core question: how strong is your faith, not only in your beliefs, but yourself?

50 years on from director William Friedkin and writer William Peter Blatty’s masterpiece, another “direct” sequel has reared its head. John Boorman gave it a go in 1977 and produced the most bizarre “product of a demented mind” – author Blatty’s words, not mine – where Richard Burton flew on the wings of a giant locust whilst 17 year old Linda Blair gyrated on a bed in a sultry lace nightgown. Yikes.

Now David Gordon Green, the man behind the hilarious Pineapple Express and the not so hilarious recent Halloween reboot, takes the helm with a new story – because apparently the original ending wasn’t enough for some people.

There wasn’t much hope going in to see Believer, but as ever I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Photographer Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom Jr.) lives a quiet, isolated life with his daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett) after losing her mother in an earthquake, during childbirth (yes, you read that right). One night, Angela and friend Katherine (Olivia Marcum) skip off into the woods in the hopes of making contact with the spirit of long departed mum only to vanish off the face of the earth.

After three days, the girls return covered in scratches, burns and no memory of what the hell happened.

Then, you guessed it, the two girls begin to display macabre behaviour. Angela becomes foul-mouthed whilst Catherine takes a trip to church and covers herself in communion wine – a wild stretch from Linda Blair’s Regan doing the spider walk down her mothers stairs or urinating all over the floor.

These minor behaviors somehow convince the parents, including Catherine’s nutty religious mother and father (Jennifer Knettles and Norbert Leo Butz), that a demon has claimed the kids and, through the guidance of ex-Nun Aunt Lydia, sorry… Paula (Ann Dowd), Victor enlists the help of none other than Chris MacNeil (90-year old Ellen Burstyn) to form the Exorcists equivalent of The Avengers.

Chris is estranged from her daughter after writing a book about Regan’s possession, which is a crazy premise as that would never have happened in a million years. It would have made more sense to bring Linda Blair back and even that would have ben a push as the last thing the family wanted was publiciity.

What follows is a basic, baseless slog with no substance nor sense. The script is appalling, with dialogue so weak you would think it was written by a first year film student fresh from an all-nighter.

Visually, angles and camera styles are not too dissimilar to Friedkin’s work, the locations are picturesque and do well to enforce the idea of evil lingering even in the homeliest of settings. The voice of the demon – who we never get the chance to learn enough about, even if it’s Pazzuzu from the original film – is a great callback to the work of Mercedes McCambridge back in the day.

The 1973 classic film has an important story to tell and this is where all the subsequent efforts fell apart. The main protagonit of the story is not Regan McNeil, it’s Father Karras – an endearing character with great depth, his faith slowly chipping away. This is a man who feels he has been abandoned by his God. There are scenes so integral to that critique of faith – the man in the subway “would you help a poor alter boy father?”, those close ups during the exorcism itself, all is so vital in making us question everything we’ve seen. There are hundreds of theories about Friedkin’s film going back five decades. Every time I watch it, I find something new.

So you can imagine my diappointment that neither Karras nor Father Merrin are mentioned even once in this new mess of a film. Not only is that incredibly lazy, it completely ignores what made The Exorcist so special, which was people being pushed to the edge of despair.

Whilst I was on board for the first hour, Green drops the ball terribly as soon as the possessions begin. It is an atrocious attempt to make a film with absolutely no understanding of what made the original a hit. One can only hope the supposed two further sequels planned never see the light of day.

God knows what Friedkin and Blatty would have said if they were still around.

In the words of Victor Meldrew: “I don’t believe it!”

RATING: 2/10

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