★★★

To bring a new take on an old theme in The Exorcist: Believer, director David Gordon Green (Halloween Ends) writes with Peter Sattler (Camp X-Ray) and Scott Teems (Insidious: The Red Door). But even their combined talents and experience in the horror genre cannot match the source material, instead paying tribute to it more than improving on it.

Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom, Jr.) lost his pregnant wife in an earthquake in Haiti, but his unborn daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett) was saved. Fast forward thirteen years, and he’s a doting, slightly overprotective father. When she and another girl, Katherine (Olivia O’Neill), disappear, he and Catherine’s parents are frantic. The mystery deepens when they’re found three days later in a barn 30 miles away, believing they’ve only been gone a few hours. What’s worse, both girls’ personalities have changed in a very dark and sometimes violent manner. Despite not being a believer, when all else is ruled out, Victor turns to Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), who had a similar experience fifty years earlier. Together, they take the first steps towards trying to save the girls’ sanity and possibly their souls.

The concept is a good one, although the story is rendered in such a way that, depending on the audience member, it could be considered reasonable or could be viewed as hokey or even offensive. Some characters seem contrived, stereotypical, or even a little forced. This doesn’t mean the portrayals are poor, and the two young girls, like Linda Blair before them, turn in outstanding performances. However, the generic feel does prevent identification with the characters, a principal element missing in this film. Of particular note is just how little presence the Catholic Church has in the movie - a vital keynote that made the first one work so well.

There are a lot of positive stylistic tributes to the original in the first portion of the film through lighting and camera angles. This holds in the final third of the film, but not in a positive way. Many of the effects and some of the events come across as just rehashing the old using modern technology. This is to the film’s detriment, detracting from the true horror of the possession. Even when touching on Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells,” the music doesn’t keep filmgoers engaged in the way it should. Even the setting, now in Georgia, looks accurate but just isn’t attention-grabbing.

The Exorcist: Believer is not a poor film, but the amount left up to the audience’s interpretation means that a viewer’s faith in the film will vary by wide degrees. Leaving some things ambiguous, especially in a movie like this one, is not necessarily bad. Still, the amount here feels artificial enough to open up a chasm under the audience’s feet. It isn’t a bad story and certainly outranks the earlier sequels, but it doesn’t possess enough personality to make it as memorable as the original.