Exorcist, The: Believer (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Dec 22, 2023
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Exorcist, The: Believer (4K UHD Review)


David Gordon Green

Release Date(s)

2023 (December 19, 2023)


Blumhouse/Universal (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B+

The Exorcist: Believer (4K UHD)

Buy it Here!


[Editor’s Note: The majority of this review is written by Dennis Seuling with additional notes on the picture quality Tim Salmons.]

Director David Gordon Green was responsible for invigorating the Halloween franchise with his 2018 reboot, completely ignoring all sequels in the series. The Exorcist, the iconic 1973 terror fest starring Linda Blair as a possessed young girl, has received similar treatment by Green. The Exorcist: Believer uses a new story, with several ties to the original.

The film begins with an extended sequence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where a young couple, Victor and Sorenne Fielding (Leslie Odom Jr., Tracey Graves), are expecting their first child. An earthquake badly injures Sorenne and doctors present Victor with a Sophie’s Choice dilemma: they can save either his wife or unborn daughter, but not both. Sorenne’s dying wish was for him to protect their daughter, so he feels obligated to choose the baby. This prologue lays the groundwork for what’s to come.

Thirteen years later, Victor and daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett) are living in Georgia. After school one day, Angela and best friend Katherine (Olivia O’Neill) wander into the woods, where they descend into a dank, foreboding drainage tunnel and toy with a charm to contact the spirits of the dead. They then disappear. For three days, the police help Victor and Katherine’s frantic parents search the woods and surrounding area. The girls are finally found huddled in a barn thirty miles away and claim to have no memory whatsoever of what happened to them.

Taken to a hospital, the girls undergo a battery of tests to determine whether they’ve suffered any physical harm. All the tests come up negative. But after they get home, odd symptoms begin to appear—glazed eyes, uncontrolled urination, blood, escalating violence, and a deep, demon’s voice issuing from their mouths. Amid the growing distress of the parents, medical experts, clergy, and a nurse (Anna Dowd), who seems to have a familiarity with what’s happening, ultimately shares a dark secret with Victor.

Chris McNeil (Ellen Burstyn), whose own daughter suffered from demonic possession and underwent exorcism, has become a scholar of exorcism the world over and written a book on the subject. Victor contacts her, believing she’s the only one who can help Angela. Chris just may have the key to understanding why Angela and Katherine have been singled out for possession. Burstyn, now 91, looks elegant and stately and provides a major connection to the original film.

As in the original, the climax of The Exorcist: Believer is the exorcism. But it lacks the impact of its predecessor despite ample special effects, extreme acting, and incredibly intense performances by Jewett and O’Neill, who are truly terrifying in many scenes. Director Green wants to have it both ways: he wants to put his own stamp on the franchise while drawing heavily on the original, and the results are inconsistent.

Odom is not terribly believable as a father in distress, The script tells us that Victor is a loving and protective father, yet Odom’s performance never reaches that level of concern. Victor seems too complacent as a father presumably desperate to save his child. This may be the fault of the director in not eliciting a stronger performance. Dowd, on the other hand, is excellent as the nurse who recognizes the gravity of possession and has firsthand knowledge of it. She turns in an authentic performance and her scenes ring true. Burstyn is introduced fairly late in the action but she definitely perks up the film which, up to that point, tends to drag. There are scenes where some trimming would have enlivened the pacing.

The Exorcist: Believer isn’t a bad film; it’s just not as good as fans of the original would like it to be. What’s missing is a consistent atmosphere of evil and progressive danger. Every frame of The Exorcist simply dripped with tension. In Green’s picture, the effects often overpower the narrative. They’re impressive enough, but they distract from the tale. And there are few Big Moments as in the original. Some scenes aspire to be high points but instead remind us of how effective William Friedkin was in delivering one chill after another as the film progressed.

The Exorcist: Believer was captured by director of photography Michael Simmonds digitally in the ARRIRAW (4.5K and 3.8K) codec using Arri Alexa LF and Arri Alexa Mini LF cameras, Cooke S7/i Full Frame and Moviecam lenses, finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 4K Ultra HD debut of the film has been graded for High Dynamic Range with HDR10 and Dolby Vision options. The presentation sits primarily in the 60 to 80Mbps range, occasionally slipping below and spiking above it. Detail is high, nice and tight in the frame with rich textures, giving the film an organic quality. The HDR grades offer a 10-bit color uptick with deeper detail in the limited and somewhat muted color palette, but also enhance the dark environments with many gradations of shadow, as well as deep, inky blacks. There are no signs of unwarranted enhancement, only increased resolution over the Blu-ray. The only drawback is the CGI-laden special effects, which don’t really jibe with an otherwise stellar picture.

Soundtrack options include English Dolby Atmos (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible), and Spanish (Latin) and French (Canadian) 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus. Subtitle options include English SDH, Spanish (Latin), and French (Canadian). Dialogue is clear and distinct throughout. During the exorcism, the girls utter guttural, non-human sounds and speak in deep, demonic voices. There are disturbing sounds relating to gruesome special effects, unexplained noises emanating from within the room, and ear-piercing screams. In a nod to the original film, Tubular Bells is heard over the closing credits.

The Exorcist: Believer on 4K Ultra HD sits in a black amaray case alongside a 1080p Blu-ray containing the same audio and subtitle options (adding an English 2.0 Descriptive Audio Service track) and a Digital Code on a paper insert. Everything is housed in a slipcover featuring the same artwork as the insert. Bonus materials include the following in 4K (SDR):

  • Audio Commentary by David Gordon Green, Ryan Turek, Peter Sattler, and Christopher Nelson
  • Making a Believer (8:45)
  • Ellen and Linda: Reunited (4:32)
  • Stages of Possession (6:03)
  • The Opening (6:18)
  • Editing an Exorcism (4:34)
  • Matters of Faith (4:24)

Audio Commentary – For the opening, the Dominican Republic stood in for Haiti. It was deemed essential for the franchise to have an exotic locale as the prologue. The film shows the power of a voodoo blessing and also the loving relationship between Victor and Sorenne. The challenge for the filmmakers was how to tell an exorcism story to an audience that had become so familiar with them. When it’s difficult to explain certain aspects of the story, “ambiguity is your friend.” You can’t please every viewer who comes to the film with expectations. The filmmakers often discovered new slants to the film when test audiences reacted in unanticipated ways. Audience reactions are important in fine-tuning films, especially horror and comedies. Focus group input is valuable in determining how to promote a film—“a lesson in marketing.” Religion has a broader reach than in the 1973 film. Drama arises from the concern of the parents when medicine has failed them. Religion is not strictly black and white; the edges are “kind of fuzzy.” Atlanta’s diversity of architecture offered chances to make the locations less urban, more suburban. The original concept involved three girls being possessed rather than two. At the end of every horror film, the protagonist must make a choice. The exorcism involved “the arts and crafts of expelling the demon.”

Making a Believer – Producer Jason Blum and director David Gordon Green discuss taking a new look at an iconic franchise. Green researched five documented exorcisms. Leslie Odom, Jr. grew up with a fascination for religions and lobbied for the role of Victor. Ellen Burstyn was interested in how the exorcism of Regan affected Chis McNeill. Odom refers to Burstyn as a great scene partner. Typical make-up applications involved 2 1/2 hours of prosthetics.

Ellen and Linda: Reunited – Linda Blair speaks about her relationship with Ellen Burstyn. She felt the audience would be interested in the story. Blair’s name did not appear on the call sheet. She was listed as “Bartholomew.” Burstyn, whose character was blindfolded as required by the script, didn’t know that Blair would be doing the scene with her, which was captured on the first take.

Stages of Possession – Actors Lydia Jewett and Olivia O’Neill and make-up effects designer Chris Nelson identify three specific stages of make-up—naughty, nasty, and gnarly. The make-up was mapped out based on the script. The final stage relied on “full-out prosthetics.” The actors’ expressiveness works in tandem with the make-up. Their transformation is “otherworldly.” Nelson is happy only when the make-up works in the context of the film.

The Opening – The prologue is exotic, not our everyday world. It sets the tone for the film. Filming was done in the Dominican Republic. The opening also sets up the relationship between Victor and Sorenne.

Editing an Exorcism – According to director Green, filming the exorcism day after day was emotional and intense. Editor Tim Alverson speaks about this tension and palpable energy of being “in the moment.” Ann Dowd and other cast members discuss how they were affected. Alverson talks about “cheating” sounds into the picture for enhanced dramatic effect.

Matters of Faith – Research for the film involved speaking with clergymen and reading books. The director “wanted to get it right,” so the sacrament of communion, which vestments are worn, and how church rituals are performed were depicted accurately. There are similarities among religions about being wary of evil. A possession movie offers opportunities to explore many themes—ideas of who I am, what lies within me, how I am perceived by my community, and can their intervention help.

The Exorcist: Believer is a somewhat flawed attempt to capitalize on the power of one of the best horror films of all time. Having two individuals possessed is an interesting touch and distinguishes the film from other exorcism movies. The performances of the two young actors are quite amazing and absolutely riveting. It’s a shame that Ellen Burstyn doesn’t have more screen time. As soon as she appears, the film reaches a higher level. The picture is slow in parts, especially the prologue. Later, as the exorcism approaches, the pace should be quicker to maintain tension and build suspense. As horror films go, The Exorcist: Believer is fairly intelligent in conception and admirably restrained when the director could easily have made it a foray into exploitation. It also makes for an outstanding 4K presentation.

- Dennis Seuling (with Tim Salmons)

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