There’s nothing worse than a young actor having their potential wasted down the drain project by project. Has any actor had a worse year — at least by mainstream media standards — than Elsie Fisher? The wonderfully-talented actress made a name for herself in the Despicable Me franchise but really got put on everyone’s radar with her stellar performance in Eighth Grade. In 2022, however, Fisher’s been in the absolutely horrid Texas Chainsaw Massacre film that tried so hard to be Halloween (2018) but failed as hard as it tried, and another film called Family Squares that also featured Henry Winkler and Judy Greer among many others. I believe I got a screener for that one way back when and couldn’t tell you anything about the film. But like a quarterback stuck on a bad team — cough, cough Daniel Jones — it’s not as if Fisher’s to blame. She’s the best part of My Best Friend’s Exorcism, and it’s not even close. However, for a film that tries so hard to be something unique, it’ll just get lost in the belly of the beast that is Prime Video.
In 1988, two high school best friends Abby (Fisher) and Gretchen (Amiah Miller) have their lives turned upside down during a girls’ trip to their friend’s lake house (yes, the lakehouse looks like Camp Crystal Lake). During an evening of acid and skinny-dipping, the two friends depart from the group and explore a creepy building in the woods. But things take a turn for the worst there and from there on, Gretchen begins acting weird and slowly picks apart their friend group one by one.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism can best be described as the characters being gaslit for 90 minutes. Hell (pun intended), the first sequence where the possession starts taking place, the two leads are separated and gaslit by the spirit that overtook Gretchen. From there, the spirit begins breaking up this friend group by gaslighting the other members of the friend group.
And in a movie where two friends are having their relationship torn apart due to this demonic possession, you have to care about the friends. Unfortunately, in the case of My Best Friend’s Exorcism, I didn’t care at all about these friends. I guess Abby and Gretchen are somewhat believable as friends, but not nearly enough to forgive the film for the rest of its flaws. Even beyond Abby and Gretchen, no one in the friend group is particularly likable. And this isn’t a situation like Bodies Bodies Bodies where you don’t have to like the characters. The film is contingent on your investment, and my check bounced on this one.
In both of Fisher’s 2022 films, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and My Best Friend’s Exorcism, the actress is stuck in a film that’s attempting to be more than what it is. In the case of My Best Friend’s Exorcism, there are supposed to be hints of religious tension between the church and the LGBTQ+ community; the line: “God hates you [lesbains],” or something to that degree, is said in the film to little to no effect. It’s the wrong message in a film that can’t afford to go that deep into its motifs. It’s like Do Revenge, which had an affluent school instead of a catholic school as its setting. Both films aspire to be more but lack any power to their punches.
The only person in this film that seems somewhat self-aware is Christopher Lowell, who makes up one-third of this weird evangelist traveling show that goes from high school to high school. He’s this film’s equivalent to a Brandon Perea in Nope; even elevating the lackluster exorcism scene — ironic, isn’t it? — to something watchable.
Back to Fisher; she needs a better agent. I applaud the ambition to dive into the horror genre, but Fisher has had two misses out of two attempts this year and why not continue utilizing her youth to the fullest extent? If you’re going to put her in a high school film, make it something that’s personal or something that can allow her to spread her wings a little bit. Here’s hoping that Latchkey Kids, in which she’ll share the screen with Minari breakout Alan Kim, can break the curse.
The bottom line is, there is only one The Exorcist, and there’s a reason that the film is often imitated but never duplicated. There have been many possession films in recent years — The Possession of Hannah Grace and The Exorcism of Emily Rose both come to mind — but unfortunately, there are only so many films like Saint Maud for every instance of a The Possession of Hannah Grace-type. My Best Friend’s Exorcism doesn’t bring anything to the table despite how hard it tries. From the friend group storyline to the overly-used setting of the 80s, it never sticks the landing for any of its high aspirations. It doesn’t even end with the very cliched tag that all of these films end with. It’s rare that I actually miss a genre trope, but it would’ve spiced up this film a little bit. Perhaps the lack of flavor is why the film settles for so many needle drops that audiences will recognize including opening with “Take On Me.” I can’t in good conscience recommend this film to anodyne. I don’t even know if being possessed would muster a recommendation out of me. 2022 has been filled with horror bangers, so this spooky season, watch X, Pearl, Bodies Bodies Bodies, Scream, hell, I’ll even throw in Men — a film that wholly missed the mark — before you watch My Best Friend’s Exorcism.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism will be available to stream on Prime Video on September 30.