‘The Exorcist: Believer’ Brings New Demon Home on 4K [Review]

This year’s legacy sequel The Exorcist: Believer arrived on physical media this week (just in time for Christmas!), and HDN received an advance copy on 4K Ultra HD from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, including a feature length commentary track with director David Gordon Green and six new behind the scenes featurettes. Read on for our review of the film and a breakdown of the bonus features.

The Exorcist: Believer Collector’s Edition, out now on Digital and on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD, comes in a slipcase featuring the theatrical poster artwork with the title embossed, and the disc case has the same artwork. The 4K set that we were provided with includes the Ultra HD disc as well as a Blu-ray disc and Digital code.

The new movie is a sequel to the 1973 original film, with Ellen Burstyn reprising her role as Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), whose haunting experience with her daughter Regan may be the key to combating a new demonic entity that has possessed not one but two young girls. Since his wife’s death, Victor (played by Leslie Odom Jr.) has raised his daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett) alone. After Angela and her friend Katherine (Olivia O’Neill) return from a three-day disappearance with missing memories, they begin displaying frightening behavior, and Victor’s last hope is to find the only person who has seen anything like this before: MacNeil.

While some of Burstyn’s dialogue in the film and its trailer seems to suggest that this demon is the same that possessed Regan 50 years ago, later revealed in Exorcist II: The Heretic (and previously in William Peter Blatty’s original source novel) to be named Pazuzu, but Believer‘s end credits and Blu-ray bonus features confirm that this is in fact a new three-eyed, winged demon, named Lamashtu (played by Lize Johnston).

Believer‘s main misstep is not featuring this new demon more prominently, especially after seeing behind the scenes images shared by Christopher Nelson of Lize Johnston in Lamashtu’s full body makeup that we only get extremely brief glimpses of in the final cut.

Jewett and O’Neill, in Oscar-winning special FX designer Christopher Nelson‘s horrifying demon makeups, are the scene stealers of this film, demanding your attention in each frame they appear in, and that’s even before their characters are possessed. In the feature commentary track and on one of the behind the scenes featurettes in the disc extras, Nelson says that their possessed performances are among the best he has ever seen, and I would totally agree. “In 34 years I’ve been in this business,” he says in the Making a Believer featurette, “I don’t think I’ve seen a performance as good from an adult than from these two girls, and I’m a hundred percent serious about that.”

With a run time of just under two hours, Believer is a slow burn build up to the third act exorcism itself, which does not disappoint in delivering the expected horror goods, even if it breaks little new ground in the subgenre.

The biggest swing that this iteration of the 50-year-old franchise takes is that there is no one exorcist-priest hero character this time, but rather a group of disparate people each from different faiths and bringing their own theologies who come together to combat the demon, after the Catholic church deems that the two girls are psychologically afflicted, not spiritually, and officially denies them the rite.

Directed by David Gordon Green (Halloween, Halloween Kills, Halloween Ends), the excellent cast is rounded out by the always great Ann Dowd (Hereditary, Compliance), with Jennifer Nettles (The Righteous Gemstones) and Norbert Leo Butz (Bloodline) as Katherine’s parents.

The bonus features include six brief behind the scenes featurette, including interviews with Burstyn and her 1973 co-star Linda Blair, who were reunited on set after not seeing each other for decades.

  • Making a Believer runs just under nine minutes, as filmmakers and cast discuss their collective approach to bringing differing perspectives into this drama about these two synchronized possessions.
  • Ellen and Linda: Reunited is less than five minutes, but is arguably the best of the featurettes, with Burstyn and Blair captured reuniting on-set for the first time in years.
  • Stages of Possession runs six minutes and is another highlight, focusing on the insanely impressive makeup applied to the two young leads, with Lidya Jewett, Olivia O’Neill, and special makeup FX designer Christopher Nelson discussing the physical and mental changes the girls go through as they advance through the possession. Nelson also explains why certain design decisions were made to each of the girls’ individual looks and differences.
  • The Opening runs just over six minutes and focuses on the first scene of the film, which takes place in Haiti, a location far removed from the rest of the story and purposely from viewers’ comfort zones. It is also an ode to the original film, which also opens in a location far from the rest of the story.
  • Editing an Exorcism is a four and a half-minute look at challenges of staging and shooting the climactic third act exorcism scene, featuring all the main characters, with director David Gordon Green and editor Tim Alverson.
  • Matters of Faith is about four and a half minutes, with various theology experts talking about how they consulted Green and his team to help ensure accurate depictions of the different religious ceremonies in the film.

Here are some of the highlights of what we learned from the feature commentary with co-writer/director David Gordon Green, executive producer Ryan Turek from Blumhouse, co-writer Peter Sattler, and special makeup FX designer Christopher Nelson.

  • The working title codename for the film was “Brainwaves,” as Turek and Green reminisced about the various codenames they used for their Halloween trilogy, including “Night Blade” (reported here first), “Uncle Orange,” and “Mob Rules.”
  • The opening scene is meant as homage to the 1973 original’s opening, with both scenes taking place in “exotic locales” that are “far outside of your comfort zone.”
  • An actual voodoo priestess performs the ceremonial blessing in the opening scene.
  • The girls playing in the woods was entirely improvised by Lidya Jewett and Oliva O’Neill as Angela and Katherine, respectively.
  • Pretty much the entire crew from Green’s Halloween movies were brought back for this production.
  • Green explains that the film’s “aggressive sound design” and hard cuts are meant to be odes to the similar “unnerving” techniques used in the original.
  • A Ouija board was originally featured in the script, but the filmmakers ultimate decided that it had been used too many times before, so the eventually landed on the paper “cootie catcher.”
  • Turek pointed that the scene of the girls being discovered in a barn following their disappearance was filmed on Halloween Day.
  • Green’s mantra on set was always, “What would really happen,” in trying to keep the film as grounded as possible.
  • Sattler says that in his personal head-canon, Regan was never actually possessed at all, but was traumatized by her parents’ divorce, pointing out that no one else was ever in the room with her except for two priests who both died.
  • Green says that Linda Blair told him that The Exorcist (1973) director William Friekin told her that original film is not horror, but a “theological thriller.”
  • The scene where Angela has wet her bed was originally scripted not with urine in the bed, but with the word “Mother” written in feces on the wall.
  • Green wanted Chris MacNeil’s journey in the film to mirror Ellen Burstyn’s real life journey since making The Exorcist as much as possible.
  •  Burstyn owns MacNeil’s actual reupholstered couch from the first film, and Green had it shipped to the set to be used. One arm of it is visible in the corner of the screen in a brief wide shot before Chris sits down with Victor.
  • It was originally scripted to be three girls who were possessed, rather than two.
  • Sattler says he came up with the “choose one” finale after literally “praying” for an ending at the last possible minute before they would shoot it.
  • An early note from Danny McBride was to go inside the heads of the possessed and see what they are seeing, albeit every so briefly in quick flashes, and in what Green described as, “an opera of pain.”
  • Christopher Nelson performed the voice of the demon, which the filmmakers refer to as Lamashtu (not Pazuzu, the demon from the first film, which is confusing when Chris says, “We’ve met before,” in both the movie and its trailer).
  • An early draft of the script had Victor become possessed at one point.
  • Where exactly Katherine goes after the Lamashtu drags her underwater is “open to interpretation,” according to Green, who elsewhere says, “ambiguity is your friend.”
  • Regan reuniting with Chris in the movie was the actual real life reunion of Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn, who had not seen each other in many decades, and the actual moment was shot and used in the film, as 95 percent of the crew was completely unaware that Blair would be on set that day (or involved with the film at all).
  • Of the heartbreaking finale, Sattler says, “Because it’s an Exorcist movie, it has this horrid patina that she doesn’t get to see Regan again (because she’s been blinded). It’s a happy ending buy always through this veil, through some struggle.”

The Exorcist: Believer Collector’s Edition is available now on Digital and on 4K Ultra HD, as well as Blu-ray and DVD, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

You can watch our unboxing video of the 4K Collector’s Edition below!

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Matt Artz

Founded Halloween Daily News in 2012 and the Halloween International Film Festival in 2016. Professional writer/journalist/photographer since 2000.