Movie review: 'Exorcist: Believer' restores faith in sequels

Lidya Jewett (L) and Olivia O'Neill are possessed in "The Exorcist: Believer." Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
1 of 5 | Lidya Jewett (L) and Olivia O'Neill are possessed in "The Exorcist: Believer." Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 6 (UPI) -- Conventional wisdom says there has never been a good sequel to The Exorcist, although Exorcist III and the TV series deserve defending. The Exorcist: Believer makes a case that a reasonable sequel is possible, even if it mostly just plays the hits.

Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom Jr.) lost his pregnant wife during an earthquake in Haiti. Now a single father to 13-year-old Angela (Lidya Jewett) and is a bit overprotective.


One day Angela and her friend Katherine (Olivia O'Neill) go into the woods to try to commune with Angela's mother. They go missing for days.

A missing child is way scarier to a parent than The Devil, so once the girls return, a demonic possession is nothing. Believer does recreate a key element of the original film and William Petter Blatty's book as doctors run tests trying to determine what happened to the girls.


That all of the tests come back clean only freaks out their parents more, understandably. Victor and Katherine's parents, Tony (Norbert Leo Butz) and Miranda (Jennifer Nettles), are glad their daughters are safe but need to know what caused their disappearance.

The parents don't know they're in an Exorcist sequel, so of course the girls start exhibiting demonic behavior. Jewett and O'Neill both give good creepy possessed performances.

Neighbor and nurse Ann Brooks (Ann Dowd) refers Victor to Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), the mother of Linda Blair's character, Regan, in the original movie. Chris wrote a book about her experience and has helped other families in the ensuing years.

Chris is now estranged from Regan because of her book. Chris is not a secret weapon though. She's just familiar with what Victor, Tony and Miranda are experiencing.

The demons use Regan to taunt Chris. It makes sense that they would repeat key disturbing lines from Regan's possession, as demons must share notes, though The Devil might want to hire a new writer if he wants to scare people 50 years later.

Other familiar beats include vomit. Even though it's not green, it's still demonic vomit. Head spinning makes sense as another recurring demon power, and the demons do have some new moves to manipulate vulnerable parents.


The most progressive new element in this sequel is an attention to non-Catholic faiths. Believer suggests that humanity is the power that can defeat evil, regardless of specific doctrine, as long as we all believe.

That's good, but the film gives many questions of faith rather pat answers. Part of the original Exorcist's power was leaving issues of faith ambiguous.

So Exorcist: Believer is never boring, but by the time it's over it feels a bit hollow. That still puts it behind Exorcist III and the TV series but at least the franchise is back on the right path.

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 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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