The Exorcist: Believer
Universal Pictures // Directed by David Gordon Green // Starring Leslie Odom Jr., Ann Dowd, Jennifer Nettles, Norbert Leo Butz, Lidya Jewett, Olivia Marcum, Ellen Burstyn
After the colossal missteps that were Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends, Universal and Blumhouse saw fit to pass the reigns for The Exorcist to David Gordon Green. The Exorcist: Believer is the first of a planned trilogy and acts as a legacy sequel to William Friedkin's 1973 masterpiece whilst bypassing Exorcist II: The Heretic, the criminally overlooked Exorcist III, and the surprisingly good FOX TV series from 2016. The film is set in modern times and follows two young girls, Angela (Jewett) and Katherine (debutant Marcum), who, of course, become victims of demonic possession (sequels always go bigger, right?) The girls go missing after a trip to the woods, and when they return, Katherine's agnostic father Victor (played by Odom Jr.), and his religious neighbor, played by Ann Dowd, sense something is wrong. Eventually, Victor calls in Chris MacNeil (Burstyn) to lean on her experience with similar situations. Now, Believer is a direct continuation of the original story, making comparisons inevitable. However, it falls rather short of matching Friedkin's classic. Nonetheless, it's better than the utter misery of Heretic or the prequels, Dominion and The Beginning. The performances are solid, with particular praise going to Jewett, Marcum, and Odom Jr. Although Odom Jr. is dependably good, the young girls had the unenviable task of following Linda Blair's iconic performance as Regan MacNeil, and they did well, bringing their own unique brand of possession that blended well with their natural teenage performances and chemistry. Unfortunately, Gordon Green seemingly brought Ellen Burstyn back for shock value, wasting her considerable presence. Her story feels rushed, moving from point to point quickly, and the same can be said for the movie overall. The pacing is messy, with certain sequences needing time to breathe, and the movie just does not afford that. The first acts of the movie exist to show the loving and emotional bond between Victor and Angela before everything goes to hell, and we also see Katherine’s strict religious upbringing alongside her parents Miranda (Nettles) and Tony (Butz) thus providing the initial clash of ideals when the families meet to aid their daughters. The subsequent possession scenes are presented well without feeling particularly forced or, yes, cringy. Many of the moments in the trailers that didn’t work for me landed better with context and the demonic voices sounded so much better in the movie than the marketing. As expected, there are a few brutal moments throughout that are designed to make the audience gasp (which mine did) that sit alongside a litany of jumpscare (sigh) but I found that the violence, and use of cursing, did not feel overly done which has been the downfall of so many Exorcist copycats. It’s all present but Gordon Green relies more on haunting imagery and sound design - with a dash of wickedly dark humour - than defaulting to straight-up constant brutality leading into the all-important third act. Crucially, the third act lands and elevates the movie in the way it's shot, the use of practical effects, and the performances (again) of Jewett and Marcum. Although the sequence itself is not perfect, it fits the overall tone, and the conclusion feels deliciously evil. However, it's worth noting that this is part one of a three-part story, which is frustratingly apparent in the film. Believer works well enough as a standalone but it’s clearly nodding to the sequels which removes most of its independence. Believer was a movie I was very excited to see given my love for the original, and I was so relieved that it wasn’t a disaster, though I would've liked to have seen it dive further into its commentary on modern religion and communities. The movie is not perfect, it’s arguably not great, but I found it satisfying and, overall, pretty damn good as a horror flick. It delivered on the performances, atmosphere, and expected cruelty despite its thin story and clear lack of identity. It would be truly hard to defend Believer as being distinct as Gordon Green (as he did with Halloween) liberally recycles ideas from the original - but the movie does enough to be gratifying. On a chilly October night at the flicks, you could do much worse…
When Evil Lurks
Shudder // Directed by Demián Rugna // Starring Ezequiel Rodriguez, Demián Salomon, Luis Ziembrowski, Silvia Sabater, Marcelo Michinaux
For years now, Shudder has consistently been the go-to platform for horror enthusiasts. Now and then, they release a movie (whether Shudder Original or not) that reaffirms the reason why the horror genre will always be my ‘go-to’. When Evil Lurks, directed by Demián Rugna who previously directed 2017’s Terrified, is a perfect example of this. This Argentinian horror movie, which runs for just over ninety minutes, is set in a small town that is about to witness the birth of a demon, or as the locals refer to it, a ‘rotten’, and it follows a small group who are desperate to escape the town before the unthinkable happens...unless they can somehow prevent it. In 2017, Terrified was successful partly due to its tense and atmospheric setting, and When Evil Lurks taps into this same theme. However, it also presents some truly haunting moments that left me sitting in silence for a short while, comprehending what I had seen. Rugna did not hold back with some of his ideas and imagery throughout the movie, but these cruel moments exist to further the narrative or complement what has been previously set up or described, rather than being merely shocking for the sake of it. As the father of a young daughter, some parts of the movie were tough for me. The movie heavily relies on practical effects for its characters, gore, and violence and, thankfully, this was the direction the team decided on because the effects throughout are so well executed - replacing them with CGI would have significantly dulled the overall effect, especially when it came to the various icky bodily fluids shown. The effects, alongside the cinematography and production design, demonstrate real craftsmanship, making When Evil Lurks an extremely effective movie in its overall feeling. The characters are an assorted bunch who carry an air of authenticity, though some may find themselves constantly disagreeing with the decision-making of Ezequiel Rodriguez’s Pedro as our lead - but, to me, his decisions, whilst sometimes potentially baffling, felt like the actions of a man pushed to his limits, a man who had….seen things. The runtime of the movie may be concise, but the pacing is deliberate. There’s a feeling of constant movement throughout, yet Rugna is in no rush to reveal too much too soon. At times, the need to step up a gear was clear, but combined with the overall tone, the pacing worked well. When Evil Lurks does not boast a particularly deep narrative, but this is a possession movie (of sorts) done right. If you nail the basics and can eschew subgenre conventions, then a thin story becomes less of an issue. There is more than enough throughout to ensure you do not lose focus or interest in the plight of the characters and this is yet another example of why foreign-language horror should not be overlooked - there’s a fearlessness, a ferocity, and a voice that is often missing from contemporary Hollywood horror. When Evil Lurks is nasty, chilling, shocking, and so damn effective - put it on your Halloween night watchlist this year.
Killers of the Flower Moon
Apple Original Films // Directed by Martin Scorsese // Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone, Tantoo Cardinal, Scott Shepherd, Tatanka Means, Talee Redcorn, Jesse Plemons
Martin Scorsese, one of the daddies of cinema, is back. Four years after dropping The Irishman on Netflix in all of its three-hour and twenty-minute glory, he returns with Killers of the Flower Moon for Apple TV+ and decided to just roll with the same runtime. Mentioning the duration so early on felt key as it has become an integral part of the movie’s pre-release conjecture with people seemingly forgetting Oppenheimer came out mere months ago. However, long runtimes do worry me, honestly, as so many times movies just cannot justify them. KOTFM, adapted from David Grann’s 2017 novel, focuses on a series of Oklahoma murders in the Osage Nation in the 1920s - murders committed after oil was discovered on tribal land with the wealthy ‘white guardians’ ready to profit from the discovery. Whilst the focus is overall on the murders, the movie revolves around DiCaprio’s Ernest Burkhart, a returning soldier who lives with his respected rancher uncle, William ‘King’ Hale (De Niro). Although the book highlights Mollie's story (played here by Gladstone) and her family's potential wealth from oil headrights, and, whilst Mollie’s story is at the heart of the narrative, the movie chooses a different perspective. The results are generally very strong, with Scorsese delivering some truly fantastic moments throughout the movie. The action sequences are well executed, and the final conversation between DiCaprio and Gladstone is both scintillating and devastating. However, I felt that the Osage people, their story, and their experience felt a bit undercooked and secondary to the main plot. KOTFM is a crime movie in the vein of Goodfellas, transferred to a different location and setting, showing Scorsese doing what he knows best. Nonetheless, repetition within the dialogue and character plans made motivations seem overexplained to ensure the audience understood every piece of the puzzle. The same could be said for visual nods also - the narrative wasn’t particularly challenging in the first place therefore the handholding felt somewhat unnecessary. However, there are scenes where Scorsese presents the senseless and callous violence against the Osage starkly and chillingly. The same can be said for Brendan Fraser’s…big performance…Fraser aside, performance-wise, unsurprisingly, the movie is strong. Lily Gladstone’s performance steals the show with her simmering and quiet intensity, punctuated by real outbursts of emotion throughout. I felt we didn’t get enough time with Mollie during certain situations, though, which was frustrating. De Niro is menacing and dependable, even if his accent isn’t, but this can’t be ranked as one of DiCaprio’s finer performances. Ernest spends too much time scowling, gurning, and being a few steps behind everyone else to compete with certain other characters. But, despite Ernest’s ethical and moral shortcomings, the chemistry between DiCaprio and Gladstone is strong. When Plemons enters the fray, the movie takes a tonal shift and allows him to flex his muscles, if only for a short while. Speaking of which, DoP Rodrigo Pietro certainly flexed during KOTFM, this is a seriously beautiful-looking movie. The images Pietro captures, and the intelligent camera techniques employed, are some of the best of the year. Pietro and Scorsese manage to evoke the feeling of classic Westerns with the look and feel of KOTFM, and if this is Scorsese’s Western, then he certainly deserves credit for capturing the genre's glory. Whilst it seems easy to pick at the runtime, the movie dragged in places throughout, and for me, there is an astonishing two and three-quarter-hour movie in this - but if anyone has earned the right to indulge, it’s Scorsese. Technically and visually beautiful, overall I liked Killers of the Flower Moon, but fell short of loving it.