Elsie Fisher (L) and Amiah Miller play best friends in "My Best Friend's Exorcism." Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 30 (UPI) -- My Best Friend's Exorcism, on Prime Video on Friday, never gets any more clever than its title, despite sincere performances by Elsie Fisher and Amiah Miller.
Best friends Gretchen (Miller) and Abby (Fisher) are bracing themselves for Gretchen's impending move. They hang out with Margaret (Rachel Ogechi Kanu) and Glee (Cathy Ang) in high school.
One weekend, while partying at an infamous abandoned shack, Gretchen disappears briefly. When she returns, she is no longer acting like herself.
The strongest part of the movie is the first act. It convincingly conveys Gretchen and Abby's friendship to the point you would feel distraught should a demon come between them.
Unfortunately, the horror story never does justice to the friendship. It takes more than two-thirds of the movie to even get to the exorcism.
A little buildup is fine, but even The Exorcist cut most of the pre-demon story from the book. Seventy minutes into My Best Friend's Exorcism, Abby still is executing a drawn-out plan to lure Gretchen out of the house.
The horror is all derivative. When the girls explore the creepy house, the film cuts to Gretchen standing there with a loud boom that startles the others.
Gretchen's changes are an obvious metaphor for friendships growing apart, as happens in high school without demonic assistance. Buffy the Vampire Slayer handled high school metaphors much more organically more than two decades ago.
Any fun to be had with a sullen Gretchen projectile vomiting over douchey guys or rebelling against authority is undermined by the superficial script. By the time of the exorcism, Abby can only rely on a bumbling pseudo priest doing hack material.
The joke is supposed to be teenagers can't get the intense priests of The Exorcist to help them. The schtick is just tired, and too little, too late, though Miller and Fisher remain committed.
By the way, this all takes place in the '80s. There's really no reason for that, except perhaps to prevent Gretchen and Abby from Googling Gretchen's symptoms.
But seeing them talk on landlines, reading each other magazine quizzes, is indicative of a bygone era. The soundtrack drops A-Ha, Blondie and more.
Other minor references include the girls' innocent crush on Boy George. Abby is the only member of the group who doesn't try drugs because of Nancy Reagan's Just Say No campaign.
Unfortunately, in attempting to pay homage to '80s horror movies, the filmmakers behind My Best Friend's Exorcism more accurately made the kind of horror movie that sat on the shelf of the video store.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.