David Gordon Green is a respected Hollywood writer, director and executive producer. He has proved his Midas touch in comedy (“Pineapple Express”) as well as horror (Halloween franchise: “Halloween”, “Halloween Kills” and Halloween Ends”).
It’s little surprise to see him being behind the latest Blumhouse supernatural horror, “The Exorcist: Believer”.
This film centres on Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom, Jr), who has been raising daughter Angela (Lidya Jewett) as a single parent after the death of his pregnant wife in a Haitian earthquake 13 years earlier.
When Angela and her new friend, Katherine (Olivia O’Neill), disappear into the woods for three days, only to return with no memory of what happened, it sets off a chain of events that forces a desperate Victor to seek out the only person who has gone through a similar experience five decades ago.
Interestingly, Ellen Burstyn reprises her iconic role as Chris MacNeil, the mother of Regan, who went missing a long time ago.
On revisiting William Friedkin’s 1973 classic, “The Exorcist”, and introducing it decades later, Gordon Green said: “I saw the film in high school, and for me, it blended the lines between horror and drama, and between art and commercial.
“I loved how it took something spectacular, unexplainable and supernatural, and grounded it in earthly characters who were in relatable scenarios. It really got under my skin and didn’t let go.”
He continued: “The experience I had with Blumhouse and Universal Pictures on our ‘Halloween’ trilogy was unmatched in my career in terms of creative freedom, commercial success and really finding a film family that I had wanted for many years.
“I consider possession films a sub-genre of horror, and when Morgan Creek, which owns the rights to ‘The Exorcist’, reached out to us, we just thought it was a great opportunity to expand that film family.
“It offered me the possibility to step away from the slasher sub-genre, where I feel like I’ve said what I needed to say, and bring some of the skill set and passions I had for dramatic independent film-making in the early part of my career into a commercial arena.
“With ‘The Exorcist: Believer’, we are infusing many different attributes from the movies I have made with a loyal group of film-makers and collaborators.
“The original ‘The Exorcist’ and the Tubular Bells' iconic music triggers something primal in all of us, and the creative team that has worked on this film has made sure we have respected its integrity and taken it beyond what could have been just a quick cash grab or exploitation of a title.”
The new movie tells the story from the parents’ point of view as they tackle an illness inhabiting their children and, in doing so, they explore an unknown realm between clinical and spiritual.
On having Burstyn return to the franchise, he admitted: “It was a great honour to work with Ellen Burstyn, who is in at least three of my top ten movies: ‘The Last Picture Show’, ‘Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’ and ‘The Exorcist’.
“We were fortunate to bring her in early into the development of the project, where I learnt a lot about how her life had evolved since the success of the original movie.
“Actually, in many ways, the character that we had been sculpting fell into a parallel path in the universe because it was someone who had been monumentally affected by the events of 1973.
“Getting to know Ellen made us realise that there were a lot of similarities between them, and it was a magical experience to feed off her wisdom and insights.
“Finding artists that have both confidence and vulnerability, but that are willing to dance with you, is one of the most satisfying parts of my job.”
The director continued: “Her character has an interesting arch that we discover in this film, that shows both her strength and vulnerability. Yes, she has the strength to confront the evil they are facing, but also a vulnerability because she has lost connection with her daughter.
“Following the traumatic experience Chris MacNeil went through 50 years ago, she is trying to share her knowledge and connect with people who are dealing with similar hardships.
“The problem is that by passionately reaching out to the world around you, you can also distance yourself from the person closest to you. I find that fascinating and I believe it can lead to complicated storytelling that people can relate to.”
On the Fielding character, he said: “I always saw Victor as a character that was born into faith, but after being confronted with the ultimate challenge, retreated from his religion and went into a protective shell to not only protect himself but also his daughter.
“I think that, like so many of us would do, he is just looking for an answer: something logical and grounded, the pill to take or the physical therapy to do.
“But he is not finding answers, and the situation is getting worse. One of the reasons the movie is titled ‘The Exorcist: Believer’ is precisely because it follows the journey of someone who is looking for faith.”
Expanding on why he went with Odom Jr for the part, Gordon Green said: “Leslie is an intense and dedicated performer that from the very first day was on a journey to find truth in Victor.
“So, he dealt with the acrobatic emotions of figuring out how he could go on this journey with someone that feels so uncertain and that is trying to find balance through the connection with his daughter.”
As for manoeuvring his way through two possessions, simultaneously, he said: “The bar was set really high with Linda Blair in the original film, so we saw hundreds of auditions for those characters until we found these amazingly talented actresses.
“Then I was determined to create a healthy environment for Lidya and Olivia, as we are asking them to do very difficult things, not just from a performance standpoint but also due to the hours of make-up and having to juggle schooling with these very physical and provocative characters.
“So, as the new steward of this franchise, I reached out to Linda for any counsel she would offer as to how to create a healthy process to go to dangerous places.
“We brought in a child psychologist, teachers, and parents to get everybody on the same page to create an environment of trust that was provocative yet playful.
“Also, the girls immediately bonded, and it was great to see them connect because we needed that friendship to be very apparent and natural which is why some of their dialogue was not scripted."
This is a must-see for horror buffs, especially if you caught the spine-chilling trailer.
∎ “The Exorcist: Believer” is showing at cinemas nationwide.