Having completed his Halloween trilogy, David Gordon Green turns his attention to The Exorcist, another masterpiece that’s been tarnished by a trail of mostly unworthy sequels. As with his Halloween films, it’s a mixed bag, full of interesting ideas that don’t always develop into cohesive, satisfying conclusions.
It begins very well. From the tragic backstory of how Victor (Leslie Odom Jr) came to be raising his daughter, Angela (Lidya Jewett), alone, through to Angela’s reappearance after going missing in the woods with a friend (Olivia Marcum), there’s a sinister thrum to it. As in William Friedkin’s original, your nerves are initially set on edge not by anything explicitly terrible, but a background of lightly unsettling moments: a car narrowly missing a cyclist, a manically shouting child. The sense of foreboding is strong.
Surprisingly — and this is absolutely no fault of the actor — its tension slackens when Ellen Burstyn arrives, reprising her role as Chris MacNeil, the mother of original possessee Regan. The role feels gimmicky rather than essential and sets the film on a cheesier path of call-backs, winks, and attempts to one-up the original. It becomes a tribute act, its own personality shrinking in the shadow of a classic.
The script rarely rises above simply creepy or nauseating.
When the big exorcism sequence comes, it’s set up with a really intriguing idea about belief and its various meanings, which is then disappointingly underdeveloped, instead settling into the usual roaring, Bible shouting, and expectoration of black goo. The two young actors playing the possessed girls give full-throttle performances, so it’s a shame the script doesn’t give them more opportunity to create terrifying moments. It rarely rises above simply creepy or nauseating.
This is planned as the first part in — of course! — a trilogy, and there’s enough here to suggest that a meatier story could develop. Considered alone, this Exorcist sequel is better than all but The Exorcist III, yet still never quite manages to crawl fully under your skin.