• Sat. Jul 20th, 2024

Movie Curiosities

The online diary of an aspiring movie nerd

When I’m this far behind on my backlog, I like to make a game of simply showing up to my local multiplex and going to see whatever’s on my watchlist that happens to be playing next. And my luck of the draw could charitably be described as “uneven” on the whole.

Yes, The Exorcism has been getting godawful reviews. Yes, we’ve been hit with an overripe bumper crop of exorcism-themed films in recent memory (The Pope’s Exorcist, Prey for the Devil, and The Exorcist: Believer all come to mind) and precious few have been any good. (Though honestly, do Immaculate and The First Omen really count as exorcism movies?) Yes, it wasn’t that long ago when I was calling out the industry for flooding the market with cheap and quick horror films, focusing more on quantity than quality.

(Side note: Oh, and let’s not forget that Universal is teeing up yet another relaunch of The Exorcist, set for a March 2026 release with Mike Flanagan directing.)

Even so, the premise to this one caught my attention and the cast is surprisingly good. Even better, we got Kevin Williamson — a foundational mastermind of the Scream franchise — producing this meta narrative about horror cinema. And I’d be remiss not to mention the writing team of Joshua John Miller and M.A. Fortin, gay life partners who’ve quietly made an impressive name for themselves in the horror theatre underground (most notably with The Final Girls in 2015). This is technically Miller’s feature directorial debut, except I can’t find any evidence that The Mao Game (1999) was ever actually released.

With all of that in mind, I was genuinely interested to see what this movie had to offer. Even if it turned out to be a failure, it should at least be an interesting failure, right?

Surprisingly… yes.

We lay our scene somewhere in the NYC area, where a cast and crew are hard at work shooting a remake of The Exorcist. And production is already underway when the actor playing the Father Merrill character is killed on set under mysterious circumstances. To spare you the suspense, we see in the opening minutes that the set is haunted and the actor is killed by a clumsily staged jump scare.

(Side note: I’d be remiss not to mention that Joshua John Miller is the late Jason Miller’s son. Yeah, his dad was Father Karras in the original Exorcist.)

Enter Anthony Miller (Russell Crowe), a washed-up movie star struggling to get his career back on track after a series of public mishaps and tragedies. Long story short, Tony’s wife came down with a fatal case of cancer and he coped by liberally self-medicating with alcohol and drugs. After she died and he hit rock bottom, he went away to rehab for a while.

Oh, and Tony was also an altar boy who got… *ahem* mistreated by the pastor as a youth. Can’t forget that part.

Anyway, Tony goes to audition for “The Georgetown Project” (that’s the codename for the Exorcist remake) and he lands the part of the old grizzled veteran exorcist. So now he’s gone from “zero” to “lead role” in literally no time flat, while the film is actively in mid-production and everyone in the cast and crew is mourning their dead castmate. On top of Tony’s struggles with sobriety and past religious trauma. And did I mention the set is haunted?

But wait, there’s more!

Enter Lee (Ryan Simpkins), Tony’s teenage daughter, who recently got herself kicked out of school. (I won’t go into details — the film barely does.) I hasten to add that Lee and her father have been on rocky terms ever since her mother passed away and her dad lost himself in a liquor bottle. To try and help patch things up and to give Lee something to do (because, y’know, she got kicked out of school), Lee tags along with her father to work as a PA on the film.

Elsewhere in the cast, we’ve got Sam Worthington taking up space as the vapid wide-eyed actor playing the Father Karras pastiche. In the central role of the Regan MacNeil analogue, we’ve got Blake Holloway (Chloe Bailey, Halle’s sister), the ingenue and social media influencer who also serves as a love interest for Lee. Rounding out the cast, we’ve got Adam Goldberg playing the director — so you know he’s going to be a two-faced rat bastard — and David Hyde Pierce making a welcome appearance as Father Conor, the production’s in-house spiritual consultant.

I want to lead with the positives because there really is a lot to like about this movie. I love the filmmaking meta narrative that puts a neat new spin on the exorcism subgenre. For instance, as Tony goes further and further into the deep end, there’s always the possibility that he might be going method or cracking under the strain of the role. Even better, given Tony’s background, he could plausibly be having an adverse reaction to his new medication or suffering a mental breakdown from all the childhood trauma this role is digging up. Oh, and who in the nine hells let a recovering addict anywhere near an open beer bottle?!

The upshot is that Tony (with encouragement from the dipshit director trying to guilt-trip his lead actor into a better performance) genuinely believes himself beyond redemption. He’s been haunted by his own inner demons for so long, he barely even notices when an actual literal demon starts possessing him. Thus all the themes dovetail together into a triumphant climax that puts a brilliant and uplifting spin on themes of faith and redemption, further augmented by the meta-narrative of actors finding strength in their fictional characters.

Russell Crowe sells all of this like a bona fide champion. It certainly helps that he’s got David Hyde Pierce to act against, and Ryan Simpkins is no slouch either. Really, the cast is marvelous across the board. Hell, the script is really damn good, too.

It’s the direction that sucks.

Sorry, but Joshua John Miller is an incompetent horror director. There’s precious little in the way of subtlety and nothing to convey that constant sense of dread, like anything could happen at any time. Aside from a few set pieces that consistently happen in underlit rooms and corridors, the scares are limited almost entirely to quick and isolated jump scares. That’s nowhere near good enough, certainly not in such an oversaturated horror market.

As much as I love what the filmmakers were going for with the father/daughter storyline, the film feels imbalanced in such a way that the characters are more interesting individually than they are together. It doesn’t exactly help that while Tony’s possession meshes beautifully with his own inner turmoils and traumas, it doesn’t play nearly as well with the “remorseful father” angle. Lee’s hopeless impotence against a supernatural threat is another factor.

There was so much potential in the basic premise. If you know anything about the famously troubled production stories behind such films as The Exorcist, Poltergeist, or The Shining, you’d know it’s not that much of a stretch to ask “What if those movie sets were genuinely cursed and/or haunted?” There really is a great movie in there with a lot of keen insight into the filmmaking industry, especially with Kevin freaking Williamson on board. In practice, alas, the filmmaking segments are mostly either a distraction from the horror or a way to demonstrate and/or cause Tony’s deteriorating health.

Throughout, The Exorcism fails to settle on a consistent tone. It’s not scary enough throughout to be an effective horror, but it’s not smart or insightful enough to be an effective Hollywood satire. Miller should be thanking every deity that he was able to pull together such an incredible cast, because the actors are doing all the heavy lifting for him.

It’s the actors — primarily Russell Crowe, with significant help from Ryan Simpkins, David Hyde Pierce, and Chloe Bailey — who effectively sell this movie. I really like the themes of guilt and redemption. I love what the film was going for with the central father/daughter relationship. The queer Lee/Blake romance is a genuinely sweet bit of romantic relief. The central premise is ingenious. There is so much about this movie, this cast, and this script to love, all it needed was a more competent director who could effectively balance all these different parts into something that evened out into something with a clearer identity.

I can’t recommend this one for a big screen watch, but there’s too much in here that’s new and interesting and uplifting to write off completely. It’s an easy recommendation for home viewing.

By Curiosity Inc.

I hold a B.S. in Bioinformatics, the only one from Pacific University's Class of '09. I was the stage-hand-in-chief of my high school drama department and I'm a bass drummer for the Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers. I dabble in video games and I'm still pretty good at DDR. My primary hobby is going online for upcoming movie news. I am a movie buff, a movie nerd, whatever you want to call it. Comic books are another hobby, but I'm not talking about Superman or Spider-Man or those books that number in the triple-digits. I'm talking about Watchmen, Preacher, Sandman, etc. Self-contained, dramatic, intellectual stories that couldn't be accomplished in any other medium. I'm a proud son of Oregon, born and raised here. I've been just about everywhere in North and Central America and I love it right here.

Leave a Reply