The Exorcism Review – IGN

Unlucky Circumstances Plague Joshua John Miller’s The Exorcism

It’s almost poetic how Joshua John Miller’s The Exorcism feels as cursed as the tormented souls it portrays onscreen. From that painfully generic title to a post-production saga spanning nearly four years – an ordeal brought about by COVID delays – this riff on the offscreen troubles of The Exorcist has been marred by bizarre creative choices and a whole lot of bad luck besides. Originally slated for streaming under the title The Georgetown Project, Miller’s film has now pivoted to a theatrical release under a new, humdrum moniker. (Shudder drew the short straw for its eventual streaming debut.) The Exorcism is also hampered by a surreal coincidence: during production, its lead wound up starring in another similarly titled demon-possession film, to which The Exorcism will be inevitably, and unfavorably, compared. (The two are unrelated, which is more good news for The Pope’s Exorcist.)

Russell Crowe Provides Stability Amidst Chaos

Crowe plays Anthony Miller, a former movie star struggling with personal demons well before a literal one worms into his soul. Here, the excesses of Miller’s screenplay (co-written with M.A. Fortin) start to reveal themselves: Anthony’s problems with addiction are compounded by profound guilt over his wife’s untimely death, he’s estranged from his troubled daughter Lee (Ryan Simpkins), and there’s the clumsily executed suggestion that his lapsed Catholicism is due to abuse he endured during his time as an altar boy.

Initially, there’s hope for Anthony’s comeback. Just as Lee returns home, he lands the lead in an unofficial remake of a certain iconic horror film set among the iconic streetlights and treacherous staircases of Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood. (Though never explicitly named, the project’s working title is enough to get the point across: It’s The Exorcist.) Fortune comes with tragedy, however, as Anthony is only granted this unlikely opportunity after the sudden death of his predecessor in the role, who perished inexplicably on set after hours.

Mixed Success in Deepening the Drama

Crowe stabilizes these early scenes by infusing his character with vulnerability and a glimmering sense of desperation. (It’s fascinating to watch him shuffle around his urbane condo in flip-flops, repeatedly muttering ostentatious lines from his script.) Miller, known for the horror-comedy The Final Girls (also co-written with Fortin), tools with the story’s psychological aspects by crafting testy dialogue between Anthony and Lee (“My name isn’t ‘Tony;’ it’s Dad”) and establishing a hostile work environment on set. And while Anthony’s interactions with a contemptible director (Adam Goldberg) tease out his dark, internal battles (and possibly serve as a swipe at the late William Friedkin – who can say?), their tensions fail to escalate once Anthony’s inevitable relapse opens him up to infernal influence.

Other characters attempt to deepen the melodrama to varying degrees of success (if “success” is the word we want to use), like Father George Connor (David Hyde Pierce), a film consultant for all things “arcane and/or Catholic.” Pierce brings a wryness that The Exorcism could have used much more of, while Sam Worthington, as Anthony’s younger, studlier co-star, languishes in a shapeless role. Singer/actor Chloe Bailey fares slightly better as singer/actor Blake Holloway, who has been cast as a version of Linda Blair’s Regan and whose defining character trait is superstition (she burns sage) as well as a marked attraction to Lee, who’s there to work as a production assistant.

As the fraught production ensues…

As the fraught production ensues and Lee observes her father’s rapid psychological decline, Miller attempts to sow doubt about what’s affecting him. Is Anthony undergoing demonic possession, as it most assuredly appears to be (computer-enhanced makeup often makes Crowe come off like his version of Mr. Hyde from Universal’s abandoned Dark Universe), or is he simply off his meds and drinking again? That doubt might be reasonable or compelling had this material been handled more delicately, but Miller indulges the tired clichés of the typical possession movie often and to his detriment. Doors slam on their own accord, lights constantly flicker on and off, faces elongate to improbable lengths, modulated voices bellow terrible things – it goes on like this.

Two interesting bits of trivia shadow this otherwise dreadfully uninteresting movie. First, Joshua Miller is the son of Jason Miller, the Pulitzer-winning playwright who portrayed Father Karras in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. Second, its “movie within a movie” concept, based loosely on the famously rocky production of The Exorcist, came from (who else?) producer and Scream creator Kevin Williamson, who felt Miller’s unique view of The Exorcist would bring (and I’m quoting from the press materials here) something “really true and emotionally original” to what became The Exorcism.

You don’t need to know these things to understand why The Exorcism doesn’t work as a standard-grade demon movie or as a piece of metafictional horror, but they’re handy to have rattling around in your head should you watch this woefully compromised and haphazardly assembled folly. They suggest something far more nuanced and tragic than anything Miller and his collaborators managed to conjure: a missed opportunity to produce a thoughtful exploration of family, recovery, and faith, and a stirring, memorable response to perhaps the most impactful horror movie ever made from someone who’s been affected by its imagery all his life. And if that was, in fact, originally the plan, Miller’s film only becomes sadder on reflection.