David Jenkins’s review published on Letterboxd:
How can a horror film released in the 70s still be scarier and more unsettling than any film released in the last decade? Well I have a few theories. William Friedkin's film contains characters we care about, a story that actually has some intrigue and its charming practical effects still hold up today to keep you immersed in this tale. The direction from Freidkin is inspired while the cast provide us with believable and fleshed out likeable characters. The tension and suspense of the film is built up with skill and precision. It doesn't jump the gun to scare us with a few deaths in the opening few minutes like most horror films might have. It wants us to get immersed and invested in this world so that when the metamorphic shit hits the fan it means something.
'The Exorcist' gives us the usual horror tropes of bumps in the night but it never needed to resort to a cheap jump scare or a shocking plot twist to scare us. It generates all of its scares organically through its plot progression and its steady build up. Of course if all Friedkin did was build tension without a suitable pay off then the film wouldn't succeed at what it was aiming for. The fallout in the third act of 'The Exorcist' however is worthy of the two acts before it. The exorcism of Regan MacNeil is terrifyingly unsettling and contains countless memorable scenes. Be it Regan's ghoulish voice or her levitating body this film is full of iconic moments. One shot of pure brilliance for me contains Regan's writhing body silhouetted in front of a devilish figure that appears from nowhere. As a single shot, on a technical level, it is pure perfection.
Another ace up Friedkin's sleeve is that he has focused on a sweet and innocent child to get us invested in this story. Not only is she the one in danger but young Regan MacNeil is also the threat. In the later stages of this film she is the devil incarnate and a truly terrifying force. As an audience we are conflicted while watching the film. It can be taken for granted that this young girl is still in danger when she is swearing like a sailor or rotating her head. Many horror films incorporate a child as a conflicted protagonist/antagonist but it is very rarely pulled off to the same success as we see here. The young Linda Blair's performance is truly astounding. Over the course of the film she becomes a believable monster with the practical effects implemented in her transformation a real achievement in film making. The vision from Friedkin is evident in practically every shot of the film. Its an admirable piece of film making that will surely stand the test of time for decades to come.
As you can probably tell I view 'The Exorcist' as a pinnacle in the horror genre. I haven't even got round to mentioning the spine tingling score and sound design yet either. 'The Exorcist' has one of the greatest film scores ever because of how perfectly it compliments the film. It is simple but highly effective in building tension. No matter where or when you might hear it, its menacing tones will pierce through you and create a sense of dread. As the film closed with a sense of calm and safety, the score plays and one last chill went through me. This is one of those films that will stay with you. Be it the unnerving score or the disturbing imagery 'The Exorcist' will be hard to forget in a hurry.