Reimagining Halloween, writer-director David Gordon Green turned slasher films into an amusement park. He promises his update of The Exorcist, the new Exorcist: Believer, will be a “a very different exercise.”
The original film, by the late, great William Friedkin, told a story of people from many walks of life coming together to save a young girl from demonic possession. Filmmaking is also about many people coming together to solve a knotty problem, in this case: how to make a worthy successor to the original Exorcist.
“I don’t even look at the original film as a horror film, but as a quintessential film because it takes a subject matter that could be pretty far out and it introduces relatable characters and circumstances where 20 minutes into the movie you’re thinking, ‘This could happen to me.’ It’s important to find that dramatic, relatable, emotional entry point which slowly evolves into the ultimate parental nightmare,” Green told MovieMaker.
The creative stakes are higher, in many ways, than they were with Green’s Halloween trilogy.
“The slasher is a rollercoaster. It can jump out and grab you. It can be campy. It can be a house of horrors. Michael Myers can jump out of the closet at you. It can be gratuitous and grotesque. It can also be a ton of fun. It’s a movie you want to go watch in a theater and scream your head off with your friends,” he explains.
“The Exorcist is a little more methodical, academic and introspective. And spiritual. Unnerving. It’s a slower burn. I had so much fun with Halloween with the carnival attribute of it. But this is a very different exercise.”
The stakes are high: Universal reportedly paid $400 million for the rights to the Exorcist, and early reviews of the new film have not been good. But that won’t matter if legions of Exorcist fans turn out. The film is in theaters tonight.
What Is Exorcist: Believer About?
Exorcist: Believer is about two girls (played by Lidya Jewett and Olivia Marcum) who go missing and return home… changed. One girl’s father, Victor (Leslie Odom Jr.) seeks out someone with a little experience in demonic possession: Chris MacNeil (Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn), whose daughter Regan (Linda Blair) was possessed in the original film. It is Burstyn’s first time revisiting her role from 50 years ago.
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Green broke into filmmaking by writing and directing the widely acclaimed 2000 indie drama George Washington, then earned more praise for All the Real Girls and Snow Angels, both of which premiered at Sundance, and the thriller Undertow, all of which he wrote or co-wrote. He later directed Danny McBride, his old friend from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, in the 2008 comedy Pineapple Express.
Exorcist: Believer was born, in part, from other friendships. Green lives in Charleston, South Carolina, and Morgan Creek Entertainment president David Robinson moved there as Green’s second Halloween was coming out. Green had worked with Blumhouse Productions on the Halloween trilogy, and Green, Robinson and Blumhouse founder Jason Blum began pondering a collaboration between Blumhouse, Morgan Creek, and Rough House Pictures, which Green runs with McBride and Jody Hill. They started talking about film properties they could revisit, and The Exorcist kept coming up.
“We wanted to know what we would do with this legacy title if we could inject it with our emotions and personalities and give it a modern-day telling,” Green says.
Green plans an Exorcist trilogy like the one he led for Halloween. The second film in the series, The Exorcist: Deceiver, is set for release April 18, 2025. The third hasn’t been titled yet. Green says he and co-writer Peter Sattler haven’t finished all of the scripts yet, but do have “a roadmap of where we want to go.” First he wants to see the reactions to Exorcist: Believer.
“This October release will inform our ambitions,” he says.
David Gordon Green on Creative Risks
Friedkin, who died in August at the age of 87, was known for being fearless on set, always taking creative chances. Green’s TV work — including on The Righteous Gemstones, Eastbound & Down and Vice Principals, all of which are hard-swinging, fearless HBO shows anchored by McBride’s performances as deluded, insecure self-aggrandizers — take risks most TV shows won’t.
Gemstones, for example, is the only TV comedy that suddenly introduces abductions, hails of bullets, and monster-truck chases with doomsday preppers. It’s catch-your-breath funny, but also quite dramatic.
“I’ve been really lucky. The TV I’ve done has been very similar to film, it’s been very cinematic. I haven’t had the experience of stepping into someone else’s show, in a footprint that needs to be emulated,” Green says. “I’ve been involved with shows that ask, ‘What would you do?’ I try to approach it all the same, cinematically and energetically, and give depth to the images.”
He’s also thinks a lot about audio: The spiderwebs of sound in the original The Exorcist played a big part in the film’s unsettling ambiance — from Regan’s possessed voice to the sound of the bed jumping up and down on the floor. And of course he’s looking forward to audiences’ reaction to the film’s iconic theme music.
“Sound is an essential ingredient to horror. Christof Gebert is my longtime production sound mixer. He’s inspired by people like Alan Splet, those who’ve made sound into an artform. We’re having a lot of fun with the improvisational attributes of music on top of having an iconic theme like ‘Tubular Bells’ to be able to play around with.”
Green loves the collaborative process, noting that he’s not as good of an artist or musician as some of his friends, but that they all inspire each other.
“I love getting up early to deal with a family of filmmakers and working really hard,” he says, adding that his new Exorcist is born from “several weeks of being in a very closed spiritual space with a lot of people from different backgrounds and with different perspectives. The energy was unlike anything you could imagine.”
The Exorcist: Believer arrives in theaters now from Universal Pictures. All photos courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Main image: Ellen Burstyn and David Gordon Green on the set.