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Ellen Burstyn did not want to be in The Exorcist: Believer
Photo: © ANP

Ellen Burstyn did not want to be in The Exorcist: Believer

Ellen Burstyn did not want to be in The Exorcist: Believer
Photo: © ANP

Ellen Burstyn turned down The Exorcist: Believer numerous times before being convinced by David Gordon Green to be part of the project.

1973's The Exorcist told the story of a young girl, Regan, who is possessed by a demon and the impact the events have on her family as well as two priests who are recruited to help her.

In that movie, Burstyn played Chris MacNeil, the mother of Regan, and in 2023 she reprised the role for Believer.

But, she had major reservations about returning as her most famous character.

"I could have done it without her, but it's a big relief, as someone trying to honor the original film, to have someone I'm not exactly looking for permission but who can hold my hand as I step into sacred territory," director Green told A.Frame.

"If there's any hand I want to hold here, it's Ellen Burstyn's. At first, she was very sceptical. Her immediate answer was, "Hell no." I think people have approached her many times about sequels, so I said, 'If you won't be in my movie, at least be my friend.'

"We ended up talking about my intentions and the story I'm trying to tell, how I want to go about it, and how I can make this meaningful to me, personally. I start every project very self-indulgently. I want this to be a movie for me. I can acknowledge that there is a significant fan base, but I can't give it the tools I have unless I know that the movie needs me, and I need it. Ellen and I spoke and shared literature and philosophies and had a few social conversations.

"When I then sent her the script, I think she was probably, in my eyes, pleasantly surprised that I'd incorporated some of the conversations that we had, that I'd personalized it for her and taken great lengths to pay respect to the Chris MacNeil character 50 years later. We had a tremendous collaboration, and I'm very proud to have worked with her."

The Exorcist: Believer cast: Leslie Odom Jr., Ann Dowd, Jennifer Nettles, Norbert Leo Butz, Lidya Jewett, Olivia Marcum and Ellen Burstyn.

The Exorcist: Believer reviews

The Exorcist: Believer has not received kind reviews from critics...

"What made The Exorcist so scary and enduring wasn't its concepts of faith or lack thereof but its authentic characters grappling with relatable issues as they venture further into the dark abyss of evil. Believer doesn't spend enough time with any of its characters and instead rushes through all the requisite beats of an Exorcist movie right until it fizzles. Its bold, cynical commentary and occasionally effective imagery get lost in the shuffle. Believer is handsomely shot, at least, but mostly, it's just unscary and soulless." - Bloody Disgusting.

"The Exorcist: Believer is a pretty good movie that's so stuffed with characters and not-quite-developed ideas that you may come away from it thinking about what it could have been instead... It's probably the first Exorcist sequel since 1977's fitfully brilliant Exorcist II: The Heretic to capture the persistent sense of the uncanny that made William Friedkin's first entry in the series a smash hit." - RogerEbert.com

"That watered-down version of an inspired horror theme is symptomatic of a movie that starts out full of promise but fumbles the material as the stakes get higher. It's no surprise that Believer is less effective than its venerable progenitor. That it's considerably less daring than a movie made half a century ago compounds the disappointment." - The Hollywood Reporter.

"Green’s strategy seemed simple: double everything. Double the possessions, double the visual effects, double the stakes. But more isn’t always better, particularly when following a film praised for its horrifying rawness and simplicity." - Sydney Morning Herald.

"An execrable film that's redeemed by almost nothing besides Leslie Odom Jr.'s well-modulated lead performance and the ambient sense of unease that Green casts over the story's first half, Believer is so creatively spineless and bereft of its own ideas that its entire concept of sacrilege is limited to imperilling its franchise's legacy. Perhaps that wouldn't be such a sticking point if Believer didn't also do such a lazy job of exhuming its franchise's legacy. Indeed, it's hard to think of a more damning self-own in any recent film than the scene in which the demons inside of Green's possessed tweens attempt to prove their unholiness by… repeating the exact same line of dialogue that riled audiences 50 years ago." - IndieWire.

The Exorcist: Believer
2.30 (146)

The Exorcist: Believer (2023)

A father discovers that his child is possessed by a demonic entity. Desperate, he searches for someone who has had a similar experience: Chris MacNeil. Fifty years ago, the same thing happened to her twelve-year-old daughter Regan. To get rid of the demon, Chris had to call on two priests.

Directed by: David Gordon Green
Stars: Leslie Odom Jr., Ann Dowd and Jennifer Nettles

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"In hindsight, The Exorcist: Believer poster I found tossed in a urinal in the movie theater bathroom before tonight's press screening was probably a bad omen. You might even call it a sign from God. And like so many of the foolish mortals in this new film, I failed to heed His warnings. For my sins, I was damned for the next 111 minutes... People routinely label Exorcist II: The Heretic as one of the worst sequels ever made, but at least that movie was going for something. Whatever its flaws, it had some ideas and it is never boring. The Exorcist: Believer commits that sin, and so many more." - ScreenCrush.

Some slightly more positive reviews...

"A silly, gloopy Halloween shocker that offers just about enough goofy entertainment for an undemanding fright night crowd. But it might be close to impossible for those with deep reverence for the original..." - The Guardian.

"Believer is a more conventional horror tale, with constant dread and eerie thrills: It's definitely haunting but lacks the first movie’s soulfulness. Sure, we didn’t need another Exorcist. And Green’s recent Halloween trilogy ended up fumbling a good start. With a formidable Believer and two more Exorcist movies in the pipeline, though, at least this franchise still has a prayer." - USA Today.

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