Simon Ramshaw’s review published on Letterboxd:
DRIVER'S 1000th FILM!!! (I give you permission to open the champagne!)
Also, it's film #8 in Driver’s Horroctober, but that's of secondary importance.
"The power of Christ compels you!" - Fathers Merrin and Karras
The Exorcist is a film I approached with much trepidation. Being labelled as one of the scariest and best films of all time, it's an intimidating film by reputation. However, that's me just being a lilly-livered wimp concerning not getting round to watching things because they are too classic/scary. And the result of this is an opinion of The Exorcist that admires it, but can't bring itself to actually love it.
First off, the acting is superb. From Jason Miller's troubled preacher to Ellen Burstyn's even more troubled mother, they all deserve the awards praise they were given. Each provides a strong emotional core for all the themes that the film presents (confliction of belief, rejection of belief, etc.), but there's one constant that really astonishes here: Linda Blair as Regan, everyone's favourite possessed youngster. She gives a performance of such versatility and maturity that it makes all the terrible hardships she goes through even harder to watch. Comparing the sweet girl from the opening to the vulgar demon in the finale is heartbreaking to conceive, and even more difficult to observe. This is one of the child performances that has really impressed me.
Something that struck me as I was watching the film though was the odd pace. The opening 10 minutes is a head-scratcher, providing a philosophical and foreboding tone for the rest of the film. There are only brief references to Merrin's travels in Iraq later, and this adds to the inexplicable tone of the film as a whole. The theme of uncertainty is unshakeable potent throughout, and this strangely helps add credibility to the events that are supposedly based on a true story: the more we can't understand, the more the story of relentless evil being manifested in something so young and innocent makes sense. The slow build-up, only providing small hints as to what's actually wrong, is uncomfortable, while the frustrating chapter where 'experts' struggle for a 'cure' for Regan unfolds with similarly squirmy slowness. The final act is a drawn-out and agonising endurance test of trials and tribulations, which rounds the film off with a jaded and apathetic mood. The viewer is left tired and sad; sad that evil is expelled at great cost.
Friedkin's deliberately paced icon of early modern horror is an assault course of a movie without particularly throwing many problems at you with vehemence. Instead, it simply takes over and creeps under your skin to leave something unshakably potent and scarily plausible.