As everyone knows, “The Exorcist” is all about how a little girl is possessed by the devil. So as the movie opens, and we see a house, and then a light goes off, and then we get a pan across the street, we figure, “Okay, here we go.”
But no, the next scene takes place in Northern Iraq, where a bunch of people are excavating something-or-other.
A young boy tells an older man that some objects have been found, and he goes to check it out. Among the objects is a small medal that one of the diggers says is not from the same time period. The man goes back to the hole the objects were excavated from and pulls out a small statue.
Which is creepy-looking, yes, but not creepy-looking enough to explain why, in the next scene, the old man is washing down pills with hooch.
A short while later, a nice Iraqi says, “Evil against evil, Father,” thereby letting us know that the old man is a priest and that both the medal and the statue are, apparently, evil. Or that the Father is evil and he must fight the evil. Either way, the Father says he has to go.
The Father then drives out to some ruins in an indeterminate location, where he sees a larger version of the creepy statue. Nearby, some dogs fight. Probably to let us know that the statue is evil.
The movie then helpfully lets us know that we’re in “Georgetown,” but does not mention what part of Iraq Georgetown is located in.
We’re back in the house from the very beginning of the movie at this point, and a sweet-looking woman named Chris wakes up because she hears scratching in the attic. So she goes to check on her young daughter, who is quite asleep.
She heads down to the kitchen and lets her man-servant know that there are rats in the attic and they will have to be dealt with.
Later that day, we learn that Chris is an actress. Which leads us into a sequence where we get to watch Chris act, which of course means that we’re watching an actress acting as an actress acting. This woman has layers.
Moving right along, Chris heads home while creepy Exorcist music plays in the background, reminding us that even though we’re fifteen minutes into the movie and the only scary thing we’ve been shown is a statue, this is a horror movie and scary, scary stuff is sure to be coming.
Chris first talks to her nanny, and then talks to her daughter, whose name is Regan. Regan, is seems, got to ride a horse today, and now she wants one. Her mom says, “We’ll see,” and the audience thinks, “Really, a girl asking for a pony? How much more cliché can you get?”
Elsewhere, a young priest goes to visit his elderly mother. He eats. He offers to help his mom move out of the ghetto. His mother calls him Dimmie. Calling this guy Dimmie the Priest, however, makes it seem like we’re watching a bad Mafia movie, so maybe we’ll just keep calling him the young priest.
Back at Chris and Regan’s house, Regan just had arts and crafts time, and presents her mother with something that looks like a bird. Her mother is duly impressed.
Christ notices an Ouija board, and asks if Regan has been playing with it and if she knows how to use it. Regan says yes to both things, and mom and daughter proceed to have Ouija time together, a time honored tradition of families everywhere.
Chris reaches for the pointer, and it jerks away from her. Regan says that Captain Howdy doesn’t want Chris to play.
It should be pointed out that in lesser horror movies, the scary evil being is named things like D. Vil, or something. Meanwhile, here in a horror classic, the embodiment of Satan is named Captain Howdy.
After making attempts to speak with those who have passed beyond the veil, Chris puts Regan to bed.
In another part of town, the young priest, whose name is actually Damien, buys another priest a beer and confesses that he thinks he’s lost his faith. Which is exactly the kind of conversation you have over beers in a crowded bar.
Back at the house, Chris is woken up by late-night phone call alerting her to the fact that she has to go back work. When she rolls over, she finds Regan in bed with her. Regan claims that her bed was shaking and that she couldn’t get to sleep.
Chris goes into the hall and hears noises in the attic again, so she drops the attic stairs, lights a candle, and goes up to investigate. She keeps hearing noises, but notes that the while there are rat traps, there are no rats in them. Suddenly, her candle spouts a large gust of flame and goes out.
Next, we get to follow Regan as she undergoes a series of medical tests. This happens pretty much without explanation, but we are treated to Regan acting alternately enraged or really, really spacey.
The doctor gives her a prescription for Ritalin. Of course, what the movie doesn’t show are the fourteen other teenage patients he saw that day who he also gave Ritalin. Because as we know, if little Johnny won’t shut his mouth and do his homework, it’s time to drag out the pills, chop-chop.
The doctor and Chris talk a little bit, and learn that Regan has been both lying and using foul language, which are both not typical of pre-teen children in any way, and should be treated with medication as soon as possible.
In another medical facility which is not nearly as nice as the one Regan is being treated at, Damien’s mother gets some treatment for her leg against her will. This upsets her, and Damien says he’ll take her home.
Thanks to a little exposition later, we learn she died her in apartment and no one found her for a couple of days.
There’s a lesson here, and the lesson is: Even a bad hospital stay is better than ending your life in a sweltering apartment in the ghetto, where your dog will eat your face once the kibble runs out.
The place where we get this exposition is a party that Chris is throwing at her house. All is going well until one of her friends calls the servant a Nazi and a fistfight breaks out. Then things calm down again, until Regan comes downstairs, says, “You’re gonna die up there,” and then urinates on the floor.
I’ll admit, I was never all that happy about being sent upstairs when my parents were having a party, but it never occurred to me to soil the carpet.
Chris cleans Regan up and assures her that Ritalin will fix Regan’s problems. This theory falls apart somewhat when, minutes later, Regan’s bed starts rocking around like a minivan driving down the steepest slope of Mount Everest.
Despite the fact that something seriously freaky is going on, Chris opts to take Regan back to the doctor. The doctor says it’s a lesion on Regan’s temporal lobe and lights up a cigarette. Whether he’s doing this because discussing brains makes him nervous or because he’s celebrating yet another victorious medical victory is unclear.
Anyway, they dope Regan up and give her a few tests, all of which are scarier, more nauseating, and harder to watch than anything Satan does to her later.
In the middle of looking at the x-rays, the doctor gets a call from Chris. Regan is freaking right out. The doctor and his doctor sidekick go to Chris’s house, and Regan is flopping around like a rag doll in the fist of any angry toddler.
Oh, and she says some astonishingly filthy things, and knocks the doctor across the room. The doctors sedate her and then say it’s time to run more tests. Oookaaay…
More tests are run, but they don’t find anything, because this is not that kind of movie. The doctor recommends talking to psychiatrists.
Chris goes home, where the power is flickering on and off and Regan’s room is freezing.
She confronts her nanny, who left to get Thorazine. The nanny apologizes, and then the doorbell rings and we learn that Chris’s friend the director is dead. Specifically the friend who Regan said would die.
At that moment, Regan comes down the stairs upside down, clambering on all fours. Then she spits blood on the carpet.
So Chris takes her to a hypnotist.
The hypnotist puts her under, then asks to speak to the person inside Regan. There is angry growling. Then Regan/The Prince of Darkness grabs the doctor in a most painful manner and some minor damage is done in a delicate area.
Elsewhere a nice man from homicide visits father Damien. The nice man says the director fell, yes, but he adds the intriguing information that the man’s head was twisted around backward on his neck.
The nice man asks Father Damien if any of the priests in his building might be into black magic. Or if any of his patients might be into black magic. Damien says no.
Here’s a pertinent question: How did the nice man from homicide jump from “accidental death” to “murder” to “murder by a person following elements of the black mass?” The man is either a genius or a total conspiracy theorist.
Back at the hospital, the doctor who was capable of seeing Regan flung about her own bed while using words that sailors on leave dare not utter has an idea: He thinks that Regan THINKS that she’s possessed. So he suggests that if someone performs an exorcism, it will cause Regan to think she is NOT possessed, and everything will go back to normal.
Chris is not jumping up and down at this idea. She takes Regan home and is surprised to discover a cross has been tucked Regan’s pillow. None of the servants will confess to putting it there.
But isn’t it just like the help to leave religious artifacts lying around and then not confess to it?
The nice man from homicide comes to visit Chris, offering her a handful of ideas and theories about her dead friend – including one scenario where Chris’s friend was pushed from Regan’s window.
The nice man leaves, and Chris begins an emotional meltdown that is somewhat exacerbated by the screaming and yelling coming from Regan’s room.
Chris runs to Regan’s living quarters. Objects are swirling around the room, and a possessed Regan is doing horrible things with the crucifix that Chris found earlier. Chris is thrown across the room, and when her servants come to help, the door slams shut and a chair glides across the floor and prevents it from being opened.
Regan’s head spins around to face backward, and the scene comes to a close.
Later that day, Chris meets up with Father Damien on a bridge near a parking lot. Chris asks Damien for a cigarette, which seems odd. Though given what she’s gone through, I suppose if she asked him for opium and a hookah it wouldn’t be too out of place.
Chris asks Damien a bunch of questions about his background, and then casually slips in a “How do you go about getting an exorcism” question. Damien asks for clarification, and she replies, “like for a demon or something.” Really. She really says, “Or something.”
Perhaps she’s concerned her daughter is possessed by the Pillsbury Doughboy?
Damien insists that the church rarely approves exorcisms, and he goes on to add that they haven’t been necessary since mental illness was discovered. Who says the church isn’t progressive?
Chris goes back into freak-out mode and begs Damien to help her. So Damien goes to her house.
The good Father enters Regan’s room and introduces himself. Regan says, “I’m the devil,” and asks Damien to loosen the straps binding her to the bed.
Damien says that if the devil shows him Regan, he’ll loosen a strap.
Regan says that Damien’s mother is “in here with us,” then projectile vomits green slime on Damien.
Moments later, we’re treated to Chris ironing Damien’s freshly-cleaned shirt. Left out of the movie is Damien walking out of Regan’s room covered in vomit and asking if there’s a washer/dryer in the house, and clean men’s shirt he can borrow, and the four hours of awkward conversation that must have gone on while his shirt was being laundered.
Instead, we’re treated to Damien insisting that he’s still pretty sure Regan just has mental problems, while Chris thinks that it’s exorcism time. One is inclined to agree with her, if only because we’re ninety minutes into a movie called “The Exorcist” and we have yet to spend any time with an actual exorcist.
Imagine if “The Transporter” consisted of 90 minutes of characters insisting that a package would eventually deliver itself, followed by twenty minutes of the package being delivered.
That’s “The Exorcist.”
Just before he leaves, Damien asks Chris if Regan knew his mother was dead. Chris tells him that Regan was not aware of this fact.
Then Damien listens to a tape Regan made for her dad. How he got it, why he’s listening to it, and why Regan’s dad doesn’t have it are not explained.
Damien goes to visit Regan again, and brings a tape recorder, which he uses to record their conversation. Regan opens a drawer without touching it, speaks some Latin, then some French, and then after being doused in holy water begins speaking in an incomprehensible language.
Damien speaks to Chris after the pre-exorcism and states that the holy water in question was actually tap water. He then takes the tape he made and presents it to a friend, who informs Damien that the incomprehensible language Regan was speaking is actually English. Only it’s backwards.
Much of it is just semi-random shouting, but Regan does yell out “Merrin” in the middle of all the yelping.
Damien gets a phone call and races back to Chris’s house.
The nanny takes Damien upstairs and brings him into Regan’s room, which is freezing cold. She unbuttons the bottom of Regan’s shirt and shows him the words pushing up from Regan’s belly – “Help me.”
Damien tells his higher-up that he thinks it would be a good idea to perform the exorcism. Damien’s higher-up talks to HIS higher-up, who suggests that they bring in Merrin.
Merrin, of course, being the old dude who was in Iraq way back at the start of the movie. Ninety minutes ago. Other movies have started and ended in the time it takes to get back to the actual exorcist in the title of the film.
Merrin, it seems, performed an exorcism ten or twelve years ago in Africa, and apparently it took months and nearly killed him. Looks like we’ve got a lot of movie ahead of us.
Merrin goes to Chris’s house, hears the unearthly moaning upstairs, and decides not to get good night’s sleep and reconvene in the morning. They’re going to start laying down the law right now.
Damien goes to get various needed items, and Merrin throws out a little exposition about how the devil is going to try to fight them by talking smack.
The two Fathers head into Regan’s room and start reading the exorcism ritual. The bed rises off the floor. There is green vomit. The ceiling is cracked. Doors close and things fall over. The straps holding Regan to the bed break and Regan floats in the air. The room shakes.
Through it all, the boys in black keep on reciting their ritual.
Eventually Regan and/or The Prince of Lies falls asleep and Merrin and Damien decide to take five.
Merrin goes to take a potty break, and takes one of those little pills he took way back in the beginning of the film. One hopes the pills work if he can’t combine them with foreign adult beverages.
Damien goes into Regan’s room, and Regan/The Evil One taunts him using the voice of his mother. Merrin comes into the room and tells Damien that Damien had better leave.
Damien heads downstairs, and Chris asks Damien if Regan is going to die. Damien says no. Damien has apparently decided that in addition to saving Regan from possession, they will also be able to instill her with immortality.
Damien heads upstairs, and discovers that Merrin has died from a heart attack. He begins pounding on Merrin’s chest. I guess when you’re a psychiatrist priest, they don’t worry so much about teaching you proper CPR technique.
Downstairs, the nice man from homicide has come for a visit.
Damien starts pummeling Regan, and demanding the devil come out of her and go into him. The devil does so, and Damien leaps out the window and falls down the same stairs Chris’s friend fell down. Damien is quite dead, and has defeated the devil.
Brutal, but effective, he dies as the Conan the Barbarian of priests.
Chris and the nice man from homicide run upstairs and survey the scene.
Down at the bottom of the stairs, a priest friend of Damien’s administers last rites.
And it’s time for the epilogue. Chris and Regan pack up the house and leave. Regan, we are told, remembers nothing of what happened.
The priest who gave Father Damien last rites runs into the nice man from homicide and tells him that Chris and Regan left. The two men decide to go have lunch together.