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‘The Exorcist Believer’: I find your lack of faith disturbing



Spoilers get demonic too! 

Set some 50 years after the events of the exorcism of Raegan MacNeil, a single father with an unusual past has his and a neighbor’s daughter disappear for 3 days in the woods together, returning irrevocably changed and apparently possessed. 

This is a muddled one folks, even for an entry in the legacy that is Exorcist, and the only actually clear theme that runs through the film is missed and/or wasted opportunities. But tis the Halloween season, and so into the suffering and torment of not one but two little girls we dive! 

So Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom Jr.) is, or perhaps was, a professional freelance photographer. He and his heavily pregnant wife Sorenne (Tracey Graves) are off in Haiti where he’s getting some great real-life shots, and somehow Victor isn’t bothered when his quite vulnerable wife is taken away to get Voodoo healing and protection rites placed on her unborn child, by some kind if not mildly suspicious strangers. Note the protective rites were apparently only for the child, so when a massive earthquake strikes their inn and poor Sorenne gets tossed down a broken stairwell like a ragdoll, devastated Victor is left with an impossible choice of whom to save, because you can only save one. 

Cut to some teenaged-years-odd later in the good ole US of A, Victor is a loving father to a fairly typical if a bit lonely teenager, uninspiringly named Angela (Lidya Jewett). His baby girl is his world, and honestly, the few bits of love we see between Victor and Angela as they prepare for their day, cheerfully arguing about the poor little piggies that sausage comes from, are some of the only bright spots of the movie. Angela is a good girl, does fine in school, and has a friend or two, but of course, she misses the mom she never knew, guiltily going through mom’s hidden things when she can, and the innocent theft of a scarf kicks off a whole lot of ruckus that could have been avoided if Victor had been a smidge more understanding. 

But that’s not what’s important right now, because both Angela and her classmate Katherine (Olivia Marcum) have gone into the woods for some kiddie rituals, and have vanished without much trace. 

It seems a common writers trope these days, for younglings to want to delve more or less innocently into the occult, as they test the waters of interest in their formative years. Plenty of movies establish why it’s never a good idea to mess with an Ouija board, but Believer seems to imply that the naïve usage of the pendulum by Katherine and Angela acts as an open invitation to all kinds of deviltry. 

Victor seems to pride himself on being open-minded and yet also practical, but begins to understandably become rather frantic whilst looking for Angela. Katherine’s parents, mother Miranda (Jennifer Nettles) and father Tony (Norbert Leo Butz), are desperate too but involve their church brethren almost immediately too, and make a bit of a muddle of things by doing so. 

While the strange hidden tunnels that Angela seems to have found herself in could have been explored way more for audience understanding if nothing else, the scene is downgraded to atmospheric jump scares full of empty nothing. Honestly, the whole scenes where the cops and the medical examiners do their best to make it as painless and not humiliating as possible but have to go through every last test including the rape kit, are more horrifying than the gloss of what actually happened to Angela and Katherine in the woods. 

But that doesn’t matter now either, because Angela and Katherine are home, safe and sound. Right? Except neither one of them is acting very safe, or sound for that matter. Victor in his resignation to give every last avenue to save his baby girl a try, has reluctantly brought in a woman he considers to be a potential expert on the matter, Chris MacNeil (Ellyn Burstyn), author of a certain book of her experiences with exorcism and mother to one Raegan MacNeil, who went through this some time ago. Poor Katherine just let it all come out in Church, much to the horror of her mother and father, and the Baptist pastor Don Revans (Raphael Sbarge), while possessed Angela just starts straight up attacking people. Their physical appearance gets worse and worse, in the grand tradition of Exorcism body-horror tells, and while Marcum as Katherine looks more or less like a copy of Raegan at her worst, the makeup and practical effects used on Jewett as Angela, as a demonically possessed black child, could have been better realized. 

Aided by the rogue former nun turned caretaker Ann (Ann Dowd) and the rebellious priest Father Maddox (E.J. Bonilla), a genuine attempt is made to get permission from the diocese to perform the rite of Roman exorcism on both girls. And inevitably, despite all the evidence and Chris’ damning testimony and hell, the innocence of both girls, the Church ultimately rules against performing the exorcism, citing the need for “mental assistance” instead. And like Father Merrin before him, Father Maddox is now faced with a crisis of conscience, and perhaps also, one of faith. 

Time is running out, the girls are both slipping away, and the useless adults decide to go ahead and do the damned rite of exorcism anyways. The Baptist pastor Revans is there, along with Victor’s neighbor the Pentecostal priest Stuart (Danny McCarthy), the ritualistic black healer Dr. Beehibe (Okwui Okpokwasili), Ann, and Chris “I’ve studied the rite of exorcism in every culture” MacNeil, even the cowardly Father Maddox came to help finally. (Not that it does him, or Angela or Katherine, a lick of good.) 

Finally, finally, this is what we’re here for after all that buildup, we are doing this thing, the Roman Catholic rite of exorcism. But we have several different representatives of other flavors of faith here already, and Chris kept going on about all the research she’s done on the rite of exorcism in every culture, why does it have to be the Roman Catholic one from Raegan’s time? All the power and faith the Church is purported to contain didn’t do Father Maddox a damn bit of help, either before or during the rite, and even with Chris there to pick up the slack as Father Maddox’s dead body hits the floor, she’s not sanctified in any particular way and basically according to the “rules” set down by the former Exorcist movie, it shouldn’t have worked. The presence of Dr. Beehibe too, as a ritualistic earthen type healer, very closely skirts what the Church would define as Witchcraft, yet she alone is more effective in her faith and power, than these other ineffectual white men standing around yelling at a demon. 

It’s apparently the very misinformed choice on Katherine’s father’s part, that finally sets the endgame in motion, and the final casting-out of the demon Pazuzu (we assume it’s the same demon from the first films by the way it speaks; why couldn’t we have Pazuzu’s cousin Zipzap the Grotesque come visit?). And we’re left with a lovely little end-scene where the MacNeil’s are finally reunited, despite how Pazuzu warned Chris she’d never see Raegan again. I mean, technically, she didn’t. 

The first in a trilogy of new Exorcist films, Believer asks a lot of open-ended questions about faith, spirituality in general, and the way humanity interacts with each other but especially our children. Citing the Dogma idea that it doesn’t matter what you have faith in so long as you do indeed have faith, doesn’t actually seem to fly in Believer – it didn’t save the cowardly priest who finally decided to defy his Church and perform the rite; couldn’t save all the grown adults from various religions who would swear they were unshakable in their beliefs; couldn’t even prevent the innocent children from being possessed in the first place. If Believer couldn’t support its’ own characters faiths, the film is highly unlikely to sway audience converts. 

Grab your salt and crucifix for protection, and see The Exorcist Believer in theaters now! 

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Saw X: It ain’t brain surgery!



Legendary executioner Jigsaw returns to exact revenge on a cadre of scam artists who promised him a bogus cure for his cancer! 

First off, be aware, that this is what I call an interleaved sequel, a movie set between previous films in the franchise. In this case, Saw X occurs after the events of the very first Saw film, and before Saw II. Everybody got where we are? Good! Into the madness, we dive! 

So, as we all know, John Kramer’s been diagnosed with cancer, very aggressive brain cancer, and likely doesn’t have much time left. And he’s tried everything under the sun, doing a ton of meticulous research, we’d expect nothing less from our master of the art of murder, and not one thing has worked. Yet one man from the support group for cancer sufferers, Henry (Michael Beach), offers an off-the-books supposed miracle cure, and John jumps at the chance. 

Why does this nonsense always sound too good to be true? Because it is. Deleted scenes from the first Deadpool movie already told us why traveling to Mexico for any kind of medical cure is a sublimely stupid move, but Kramer is desperate. And while he might be sick and dying, John Kramer has never been what anyone could call stupid. So the villa out in the Mexican countryside, the affable cab driver Diego (Joshua Okamoto) professes surprise at Kramer being highjacked for his good, the nervous muttering from assistant Valentina (Paulette Hernandez), the side-eyeing from little housekeep Gabriela (Renata Vaca) and her tequila, and most especially the smooth and smarming reassurances of head “doctor” Cecilia Pederson (Synnove Macody Lund), all leave a kind of sour taste in John’s mouth. 

The whole cluex4 scene is done in the style that the Saw films are known for, where we the audience are treated to cut-together explanatory scenes in a flip-flash fashion of usually about two minutes, for poor John when he realizes he’s been hoodwinked and just how badly, seems a little contrived. But then it’s entirely possible that we the audience truly expected our genius mastermind of the infamous Jigsaw murders to have realized what was happening sooner, and got enraged along with Kramer. And cheered as he prepared to take his bloody and ultra-violent revenge! 

First up in our grand guignol of executions is the return of Jigsaw’s first protégé, Amanda (Shawnee Smith). And despite her avowed reverence for Jigsaw and his proven “therapy”, Amanda does waver a bit when the scammers are put through the paces of their specially-made Saw traps, and they shriek and blubber and bleed out. The appearance of the ringer of the bunch, Parker (Steven Brand), doesn’t even slow our beloved engineer of the damned down, because we knew Jigsaw would have his other apprentice waiting just off stage, the deliciously vicious Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor). Even the monkeywrench of involving little-boy soccer fan Carlos (Jorge Briseno) in the traps, is just another cog in the machine that is the brilliantly plotting mind of John Kramer. 

A fine addition to the Saw legends, showcasing a return to the beloved style and panache of the original Tobin Bell-starring Jigsaw films, Saw X is splashing gore and gallons of blood in theaters now! 

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Eli Roth’s ‘Thanksgiving’: Sooo ungrateful



A year after a Black Friday sale riot that resulted in tragedy, the people of Plymouth Mass are terrorized when a killer dons the folkloric mask of the hometown hero John Carver (irony!) to take revenge! 

So it’s right around turkey genocide day, and the kids of our high school are having a nice little standoff with the kids from a rival HS football team, or whatever it is, as we do in relatively small towns. The Wright-Mart, owned by town entrepreneur Thomas Wright (Rick Hoffman), is about to have its huge Black Friday sale, and though it’s only on the way to the party destination, our kidlings insist we have to stop at Wright-Mart and pick up some supplies. 

Jessica Wright (Nell Verlaque) is our Final Girl, but here at the Wright-Mart sale riot she’s just a daddy’s girl who happens to have snuck her dumbass friends into an employee entrance early. Her friends Gabby (Addison Rae) and Yulia (Jenna Warren), and their jock boyfriends Scuba (Gabriel Davenport) and Evan (Tomaso Sanelli) are all gleefully razzing the getting-angrier folk outside the doors, right up until the moment the doors crack and flatten a poor security guard, setting off a riot of epic holiday proportions! 

As was brought into uncomfortable spotlights both during and right after the pandemic, humanity as a whole can be some seriously destructive and selfish a*sholes. The riot at Wright-Mart that resulted in the death of the freaking store owner’s wife Amanda (Gina Gershon) and a few others, saw people beating each other with waffle iron boxes, trampling and rampaging whilst idiot Evan there just has to hop up on a register and film everything on his phone, frames the idiocy and carelessness of the mob mentality to a T. Director Eli Roth went by an over-the-top method to show the destruction of the riot, which is good because it reminds us to laugh at a scene which is, for some, a little too close to home. 

Jess’s boyfriend Bobby (Jalen Thomas Brooks), formerly of the Golden Arm persuasion, up and disappears when it looks like the injury he sustained in the riot has crushed his pitching dreams. And it’s not weird or creepy at all yes, Jess has now taken up with the boring but very persistent nerd Ryan (Milo Manheim), but still hangs out with her former jock friends and their girlfriends, trying to make a blend. To top it all off, Jess’ dad has a new woman, the plastic-y and greedy Kathleen (Karen Cliché), who wants the Black Friday sales of Wright-Mart to continue merrily on. 

Speaking of creepy, this year, a year after the Wright-Mart riot to be precise, masks with the supposed likeness of John Carver, the folkloric hero figure and purported progenitor of Thanksgiving around these parts, have begun circulating town. And of course, someone with a real hunger for revenge has taken it upon themselves to don a Carver mask and invite the catalysts of the Wright-Mart riot to a Thanksgiving feast they’ll never forget! 

The good ole boy Sheriff Eric Newlon (Patrick Dempsey) tries to keep up with the murderous shenanigans, but always seems a step behind when it comes to the Carver executions. First up is the Karen of your nightmares, Lizzie (Amanda Barker) the waitress at the local diner, who takes the whole half-off sale thing far too seriously. Then the cowardly security guard (Tim Dillon) and his brat of a cat, and a disastrous attempt at a trap laid for Carver during the annual Thanksgiving day parade results in more deaths at the hands of a killer clown (anybody else sees callbacks to Roth’s Clown in there too?), and the special VIP guests are late for a Thanksgiving feast with all the trimmings, served up by the Carver killer himself. 

Giving homage to the likes of Craven’s Scream movies, and even the zany early Evil Dead films, Thanksgiving reminds us that our selfishness has long-lasting and even murderous consequences, and how the best of us can be twisted into the worst of humanity far too easily. Laugh out loud at the excessive gore and hilariously inventive death scenes, because it’s far too late to cry, and remember to be genuinely thankful for the blessings in your life, lest the Carver killer with an understandable motive invites you to your own feast! 

Gobble down as much as you can stomach, of Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving in theaters now! 

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Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts: Love conquers all 



After a very long war and a hard-won treaty of peace between the human kingdom and Ozmargo, the kingdom of beasts and demons, the 99th annual human sacrifice given in tribute to the beast kingdom is allowed to live and given the chance to become the royal consort, a human Queen for the beast kingdom. 

A true Beauty and the Beast style romance, the show is gentle and firm, often giving us lovely pastels and light colors for the humans and their interactions, with stronger, more passionate colors besides black for the beasts and demons. 

So, the King of Ozmargo, long may he reign in strength and virility, served with loyalty by the denizens of his kingdom (yeah right), has a Kaiju-sized secret – he is of mixed parentage, both beast and human, and cursed to suffer transformations to man-shape, and back to beast-king again. By no mere coincidence, the night of contemplation where the King goes into seclusion to hide his shape-change, is the same night the human sacrifice is given to him, ostensibly to perhaps eat or enjoy in some other way, indulging his bestial nature to the fullest. What isn’t spoken about, what almost none of the demon kingdom know, is that the unnamed King is of a far more tender nature than one might expect, and for years has been setting the human sacrifices free. (Which, given the poisonous miasma of Ozmargo and the general dislike of humans by the beasts of the Kingdom, may be a bit of a moot point – where could they escape to? Nevermind them, on with the romance!) All of that changed when the 99th sacrifice, the pretty little albino-looking human girl, Sariphi, was given to the King. 

Sariphi is a shining example of what humanity could be given half the chance, loving and kind, loyal and humble, compassionate almost to a fault, and her ability to stay calm in the face of impending disaster only increases her value in the eyes of the bestial kingdom. None moreso than the King himself, especially when, after seeing him at his lowest in human form, and at his most enraged as the King of Beasts, Sariphi still loyally, stupidly, fully with all her heart, loves him. Hell, she loved the King of Ozmargo enough to give him a Name – Leonhart. And anyone who watches fantasy anime knows, giving a creature a Name is a big deal, especially if he happens to be royalty. 

The rest of the Court harbors suspicions and old hatreds for humans, and now that Sariphi has been named as Leonhart’s acting-Consort-soon-to-be-Queen, the various beasts are taking it upon themselves to do whatever they can to convince the King otherwise. The King’s Chancellor Anubis especially seems to have it out for Sariphi, believing her most unworthy of the King’s affections, much less her own throne next to his. Anubis sets several challenges for Sariphi to complete to be worthy of even consideration for the Acting Consort title – hosting a very curmudgeonly Duke, rites of blessing for the unruly Princess of another kingdom, even forging peace talks between the neighboring human kingdom and Ozmargo, and goads her every step of the way with disparaging remarks and whispered poison in the Kings ear. After awhile, Anubis’ distrust gives way to a grudging respect for the tiny human girl who just won’t give in, and her apparent real, genuine love for the King. 

Other friends and odd allies are made in Ozmargo by those who come into contact with Sariphi the most often – the tiny ball monsters Cy and Clops who were with her from pretty much the start; the fallen former Princess Amit of the lizardfolk who tends to Sariphi as her handmaiden and kind friend; the outcast hyena Lanteveldt who, far from being reviled for his beast subspecies by Sariphi, is instead made the Captain of her Royal Guard; and Captain of the Kings own Guard Jormungand, another lizardfolk whom Amit has a swooning after, who takes to Sariphi and her love for the King very well, for it mirrors his own. 

The Kingdom of Ozmargo is proud and full of life, the beasts living within it just want to exist in peace and prosperity. Unfortunately the Kingdom is subject to troubles very similar to what humans experience far too often, but when a coup is attempted on Ozmargo and the denizens are being separated by subspecies – as in, a Bunny mother and an Amphibian father, and their fluffy green hybrid offspring are forcibly separated physically and by imposed old-fashioned caste system, the racism that runs rampant threatens to tear apart what’s left of Ozmargo unless Leonhart and his beloved Sariphi can stop it! 

Full of love and hope in the face of potentially impossible adversity, Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts is an absolute wonder, and can be devoured with relish on Crunchyroll now! 

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