Bland Believer a trial
Blandly executed and featuring little in the way of new ideas, sitting through The Exorcist: Believer is a chore that proves dispiriting, as it contains little in the way of thrills or intelligence. Eschewing the concept that less is more, the film deals with two possessed 12-year-old girls, rather than one. Angela (Lidya Jewett) is being raised by her widowed father Victor (Leslie Odom Jr.), a man who distains religious groups and doctrines due to the circumstances that led to his wife's death. Angela's friend, Katherine (Olivia O'Neill), is being raised in a Pentecostal household, her devout parents, Tony and Miranda (Norbert Butz and Jennifer Nettles), active members in their church. Of course, their faith will be tested after the girls go missing for three days and they're found acting not...quite...right...
Believer is a check-list movie, as it ticks off all the moments its writers are required to include, and we expect. These scenes are done in a rote manner, sorely lacking inspiration, done as if they were an obligation and nothing more. So, a dual exorcism occurs, the girls' bodies spasm uncontrollably, they utter vile things, happen to levitate and of course, vomit profusely.
The one new idea Green and his two co-writers Peter Sattler and Scott Teems introduce is the use of a variety of religious beliefs to combat the demon in question. In addition to the Pentecostal denomination, Catholics are represented by Ann (Ann Dowd), a nurse who almost became a nun and the doubting Father Maddox (E.J. Bonilla), while a holistic approach is taken by Dr. Beehibe (Okwui Okpokwasili). This strength-in-unity approach is an interesting one, but it's never fully developed as one set of beliefs gets more screen time over the other, while it's never really clear what each of them is contributing to the rite. As such, once the demon is banished – not a real surprise, and we know it's only temporary – there's no real explanation as to how this happened. Was it the combined might of the believers or that lilac-infused water that was cast over the girls' heads? I wish I cared enough to find out.
In the end, it's the lack of passion that does this film in. Everyone is just going through the motions and the lack of intensity, which is vital to a product such as this, proves the killing blow. Of course, it's unfair to expect something as transgressive and shocking as the first film, yet a modicum of energy and enthusiasm goes a long way towards invigorating tired material, something Gordan and his Believer crew can't be bothered to muster. In theaters.
Reptile less than it appears
Grant Singer's Reptile is a very deliberate film. While I wouldn't call it slow, it certainly takes its time, so much so that once its mystery was revealed, I couldn't help but feel a bit let down. A bit of misdirection starts things off as the film opens with a real estate showing at a posh residence. Realtor Will Grady (Justin Timberlake) is eager to make a big sale. He's even more excited that his romantic partner, Summer (Matilda Lutz), has entered this field as well, though it becomes increasingly evident she's cooled to the relationship. This is not something that develops further as she is soon found brutally slaughtered in one of the properties they are handling.
Detective Tom Nichols (Benicio Del Toro) is put on the case, he and his partner Dan Cleary (Ato Essandoh) running down leads and examining clues in the hopes they'll catch a break in the case. One suspect does emerge – Eli Phillps (Michael Pitt), a disturbed young man with a past grievance concerning Grady and his mother, Camille (Frances Fisher). A great deal of time is spent establishing the camaraderie that exists between Nichols, Cleary and their cohorts in the upper echelons of the department. Captain Allen (Eric Bogosian), who happens to be the uncle to Nichols' wife, Judy (Alicia Silverstone), hosts regular get-togethers with the couple as well as Wally (Domenick Lombardozzi), a competent cop that's never really grown up. Chief Graeber (Mike Pniewski) is no stranger to these parties or at a local club where line-dancing is still all the rage. A subplot focused on an affair Judy may or may not be having also adds to the intrigue.
It's only at the end that you realize that some of these seemingly well-intended plot lines are nothing but red herrings and that others aren't quite as clever as they want to be. The mystery surrounding the murder is compelling and as more and more clues are uncovered, there's no question that the logic surrounding it is clever. However, once the "who" in this whodunit is revealed, it's a disappointment. What had the appearance of being unique reveals itself to be mundane. The sense of "been-there, done-that" which sets in after being teased with a stunning twist ending is deflating.
Equally troubling is the lack of clarity as to the connection between the perpetrators, the victim and the larger plot. It all seems tenuous and arbitrary, something a screenwriter would concoct rather than an organic situation. In the end, it simply doesn't add up, Reptile ultimately proving to be an elaborate shell game in which the viewer falls victim to a narrative ruse that fails to pay the dividends it promises. Streaming on Netflix.