By Brendan Graham
Possession movies are a mixed bag of quality in a genre littered full of them. Ever since The Exorcist shook audiences up in the 70’s, demonic possession has become a horror fan’s favorite even for fans who don’t believe in that sort of thing. The idea of something evil taking over your body and forcing you to do horrendous things to the people you love, is always a thrilled concept even when it’s not executed very well. We’ve seen high school possession and demonic stories told before, like Jennifer’s Body, but we’ve never quite seen one that’s quite as surprisingly dark and funny as MY BEST FRIEND’S EXORCISM even when it gets a little too 80’s nostalgia heavy.
In this film adaption of a novel by Grady Hendrix, MY BEST FRIEND’S EXORCISM tells the story of two best friends at a highly religious school named Abby (Elsie Fisher) and Gretchen (Amiah Miller) who just want to be themselves in a community that promotes godliness over self expression. They’d rather watch horror movies and talk about cute guys than attend prayer sessions and guilt trip lectures about not being pure. One weekend, they decide to go to Margaret's (Rachel Ogechi Kanu) family cabin for a girl’s weekend with their other friend Glee (Cathy Ang). After the normal routine of having pizza, playing with a Ouija board and getting scared by Margaret’s boyfriend, Abby and Gretchen decide to visit a spooky rundown cabin across the lake that was supposedly the site of a satanic ritual. Upon arriving, nothing seems to be amiss, but suddenly Gretchen is dragged off from Abby, and they are separated. When Gretchen returns, something is off about her. She’s not as friendly as she used to be, in fact she’s becoming downright cruel to her friends. Her appetite is gone, and she has marks all over her body. Abby thinks it’s sexual assault, but the truth is far worse, and Abby has a short amount of time to get this evil entity out of her friend before she’s gone forever.
We’ve had some pretty heavy 80’s nostalgia going in the streaming world. Stranger Things blew up the internet with its intense fourth season, and the Fear Street trilogy was a refreshing event that blew us all away with its quality. MY BEST FRIEND’S EXORCISM is worthy of joining the ranks of 80’s horror fun, as I was quite surprised with how much I enjoyed it. I’ve never read the book before, and I watched the trailer maybe once before sitting down and giving this my attention. It’s playfully witty, with well written characters that feel like genuinely high school students. Elsie Fisher and Amiah Miller genuinely feel like they’ve been friends for a long time, their on screen chemistry is quite infectious. The visual effects and make-up are also quite solid, as we get further into the possession, these visuals help adjust the tone of what we’re experiencing from mild high school annoyances to a demon inside this girl. The film also does a fantastic job of showing the struggles of high school students, especially young women, and thoughtfully tackles some tough subjects like eating disorders and sexual assault.
Where the movie struggled for me was with its pacing. The beginning moves a bit quick, not giving you enough time to start caring for these characters enough before the evil starts manifesting, and then in the second act it drags its feet and doesn’t get to the exorcism portion for quite a bit of time. In an hour and a half movie, it’s quite noticeable and it did affect my overall enjoyment of the film. I also think, much like in Fear Street, the 80’s nostalgia is a bit heavy handed and tries too hard to immerse the audience with its constant references which some come off feeling a bit forced. Like with a lot of films, now that I’ve seen the trailer once more, some of the better moments do get a bit spoiled so best avoid that trailer before viewing.
Despite some issues, I found myself really enjoying MY BEST FRIEND’S EXORCISM, and I was quite surprised at how dark and intense it started to get towards the middle. It has its comedic moments with some quirky characters, but it’s also not afraid to get nasty and gross with some great effects. If you can handle the 80’s overdose and an uneven pace, I think you might enjoy giving this film a shot.
MY BEST FRIEND’S EXORCISM is now streaming on Amazon Prime.