Movie Reviews

I'm Worried About Mike Flanagan's Exorcist Movie (Despite His Horror Successes)

Summary

  • Flanagan’s Exorcist remake may struggle to live up to the original’s impact, a concern given the mixed reactions to recent horror sequels.
  • The cultural impact of The Exorcist remains significant, with its shocking content setting an unmatched standard in cinema history.
  • Despite Flanagan’s potential, replicating The Exorcist’s impact in today’s landscape may prove to be an insurmountable challenge.



While Mike Flanagan’s addition to The Exorcist franchise sounds exciting, I don’t think any movie could realistically live up to the original movie’s impact, so his remake has me a bit worried. Director David Gordon Green’s 2018 Halloween reboot was a critical and commercial success, spawning a new trilogy that continued with 2021’s Halloween Kills and 2022’s Halloween Ends. These follow-ups failed to earn the same acclaim as 2018’s reboot in what turned out to be a concerning sign of the director’s horror output. Gordon Green’s The Exorcist: Believer didn’t work and failed to impress critics, resulting in its sequels being scrapped and the franchise being reworked.


At first, I was excited to hear about director Mike Flanagan’s upcoming Exorcist movie. Rather than trying to salvage The Exorcist: Believer’s ending, Flanagan’s “radical new take” will reportedly see the experienced horror director take the series in an entirely new direction. However, the franchise still faces one problem that is unique to the series, and I fear even a director as experienced and acclaimed as Flanagan can’t work around this issue. The Exorcist was genuinely transgressive in its time and, while it may not be as scary for contemporary viewers, it remains an atypically disturbing Hollywood horror.

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No Exorcist Sequel Has Matched The Original Movie’s Sheer Shock Value

The Cultural Impact Of The Exorcist Is Tough To Overstate


Put simply, you really couldn’t make
The Exorcist
today.

Growing up as an Irish Catholic, I knew multiple grown adults who were afraid to watch The Exorcist in its entirety. It’s easy to forget when so many movies have borrowed from, built upon and parodied the original, but I’d argue that no mainstream studio hit has ever depicted anything as horrifying as the original movie’s possession scenes. Moreover, no modern movie could outdo the original. For all of Flanagan’s well-earned Rotten Tomatoes successes, the director’s critical acclaim doesn’t change this inconvenient fact about The Exorcist‘s singular place in cinema history. Put simply, you really couldn’t make The Exorcist today.


This statement is thrown around about many movies from Hollywood’s earlier era, and usually, I think it is reactionary nonsense. However, seeing the sort of comparatively anodyne content that has earned backlash and boycott threats tells me that a mainstream studio movie that featured a child mutilating herself with a crucifix wouldn’t fly in 2024. The Exorcist is way more shocking than viewers give it credit for and trying to match its intensity, let alone outdo its shock factor, would almost certainly lead to public outcry. That’s not even accounting for decades of gory movies and TV raising audience tolerance.

Making An Exorcist Movie That Matches The Original May Be Too Much, Even For Flanagan

Few Movies Have Come Close To Matching The Exorcist’s Impact


A major issue cited in most of The Exorcist: Believer’s bad reviews was that the sequel didn’t match the original movie’s scare factor, but this is an inherently unrealistic expectation. The Exorcist exposed audiences to genuinely upsetting scenes of child endangerment, profanity, and blasphemy at a time when bloody violence had only been seen onscreen for a few years. Bonnie and Clyde, Spaghetti Westerns, and The Wild Bunch were just about introducing the public to gory, explicit violence when director William Friedkin offered them one of the most pitilessly shocking movies ever produced within the studio system.


In contrast, modern audiences have seen decades of gruesome violence in movies and television as censorship norms relaxed, and that’s without me even mentioning the existence of the Internet. The Exorcist: Believer couldn’t even come close to matching The Exorcist’s shock value, and nor could The Pope’s Exorcist, Late Night With the Devil, The First Omen, or Immaculate. Any recent movie that has tried to even follow The Exorcist’s footsteps failed since the original movie pushed the boundaries of what could be depicted onscreen. Despite some standout shocks in his earlier movies, Flanagan isn’t heavily invested in controversy-baiting horror.

Mike Flanagan’s Upcoming Exorcist Sequel Still Has A Lot Of Potential

The Exorcist Follow-Up Picked An Acclaimed Horror Veteran

Collage of a possessed girl in The Exorcist Believer and Hamish Linklater in Midnight Mass

As someone also raised Catholic, I’m certain that Flanagan can capture the dark side of the religion’s beliefs like
The Exorcist
’s original author William Peter Blatty did throughout his oeuvre.


That said, I’m still looking forward to what Flanagan does with the franchise. After all, while 2021’s Midnight Mass was a Stephen King love letter, it was also a chance for Flanagan to prove that his fascination with faith makes him a perfect fit for The Exorcist series. As someone also raised Catholic, I’m certain that Flanagan can capture the dark side of the religion’s beliefs like The Exorcist’s original author William Peter Blatty did throughout his oeuvre. Flanagan’s Exorcist reboot could complicate the series as whole via his thoughtful critiques of organized religion, already highlighted in Midnight Mass.


Flanagan’s Exorcist movie could offer a more morally ambiguous portrayal of the church, something that earlier movies in the series lacked. The Exorcist: Believer gestured at this half-heartedly with its infamously corny throwaway line about patriarchy. However, Flanagan’s movie could offer a characteristically erudite commentary on Catholicism’s changing cultural face since the original movie’s release. Flanagan’s colorful, comical Netflix seriesThe Fall Of The House of Usher proved that his versatility, so his Exorcist movie remains an exciting prospect. Still, I’m not convinced that anyone will produce a movie as authentically shocking as the original anytime soon.

If Anyone Can Save The Exorcist, It’s Mike Flanagan

Mike Flanagan’s Exorcist Sequel Still Has A Lot Of Potential

Dual image of Reagan MacNeill possessed and looking evil in The Exorcist

One of the biggest failures of
The Exorcist: Believer
was its lack of imagination.


Replicating the impact of the original Exorcist would be an almost impossible task in 2024, so there is an argument to be made that Mike Flanagan’s Exorcist movie should offer viewers a fresh view of the franchise. One of the biggest failures of The Exorcist: Believer was its lack of imagination. Gordon Green repeated the approach he brought to 2018’s Halloween with the reboot, bringing back a few legacy characters but mostly following the original movie’s plot beats with a few minor changes. This succeeded thanks to Halloween’s slasher movie setup but failed profoundly when he couldn’t equal The Exorcist.

Although
Doctor Sleep
‘s Baseball Boy scene and the most shocking moment in
Gerald’s Game
prove Mike Flanagan can push audiences, I don’t think the director would be wise to try outdoing
The Exorcist
’s disturbing elements.


In contrast, The Exorcist’s underrated TV adaptation accepted early on that it would never feel like the original movie due to its medium shift, the passage of time, cultural changes, and TV’s tighter censorship. As a result, the show was free to succeed modestly on its own terms. Although Doctor Sleep‘s Baseball Boy scene and the most shocking moment in Gerald’s Game prove Mike Flanagan can push audiences, I don’t think the director would be wise to try outdoing The Exorcist’s disturbing elements. Instead, Mike Flanagan and TheExorcist movie should play into his strengths by offering viewers something totally different.

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