High school can be hell even without any supernatural interference. But what happens when an actual demon invades and threatens even the most devoted of teenage alliances? My Best Friend’s Exorcism takes us through this unholy scenario, with a charming cast that almost makes up for its overly familiar story.
Abby (Elsie Fisher of Eighth Grade, Castle Rock, and Netflix’s grim Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and Gretchen (Amiah Miller of The Water Man and War for the Planet of the Apes) are such besties that they say “LYLAS” to each other, turning the teen-girl acronym for “love you like a sister” into a verbalized term of endearment. Life isn’t perfect—Gretchen’s family will soon be moving to another state—but at least they have each other, along with the other members of their friend group: Margaret (Rachel Ogechi Kanu) and Glee (Over the Moon’s Cathy Ang), who are similarly close-knit. They all attend the same Catholic school where Abby, who happens to be Jewish, is a scholarship student—two elements that could be leaned upon to make her a misfit in this upscale, Jesus-praising milieu, but end up taking a back seat to My Best Friend’s Exorcism’s most pressing issue: Gretchen, high on acid during a slumber party that has already included an Ouija session, encounters a hungry demon while exploring an abandoned house.
Gretchen’s possession manifests itself in the expected horror-movie ways (night terrors, projectile vomiting, peeing in front of an audience—Regan MacNeil would be proud!), but also in ways that jab into the heart of adolescent insecurities, as she morphs from sweet and sympathetic to manipulative and shockingly cruel. Along with The Exorcist, bits of Heathers, Mean Girls, and Jennifer’s Body are all present in the narrative, which makes its teen-demon storyline (deployed both metaphorically and literally) feel even more predictable.
It doesn’t help that My Best Friend’s Exorcism is set in 1988, which feels like a prime opportunity to tap into the era’s fondness for Satanic Panic (like Stranger Things’ most recent season did) but instead serves mainly to inform the soundtrack and Gretchen’s voluminous hairdo, as well as give a reason for the absence of cell phones and the internet. At this point, if you’re going to lean on ‘80s nostalgia, you gotta bring something to the table besides Boy George crushes and frozen yogurt consumption and the movie almost does, suggesting that Abby and Gretchen are horror fans themselves, but it never explores that element beyond a few passing references in the script. It feels like another missed opportunity.
Most of the adult parents and teachers in My Best Friend’s Exorcism are either absent or unsupportive, aside from one quasi-authority figure that Abby turns to when she runs out of literally anyone else to ask for help. He’s also the movie’s most surprising character: Christian Lemon (Christopher Lowell of GLOW and How I Met Your Father), a Jesus-freak motivational speaker/performance bodybuilder (look up videos of the evangelical Power Team for the real-life inspiration here) who happens to know a thing or two about demonic possession. “Don’t stress, it’s actually a lot more common than you think,” he matter-of-factly tells an incredulous Abby—and by extension the audience, offering a sudden reminder that this movie in which a teenage girl is tortured by a demon would also like to be a comedy. The established tone doesn’t quite support the switch, as much as everyone making the movie (and everyone watching it, too, because horror comedies are awesome. might want it to.
Directed by Damon Thomas (Killing Eve, Penny Dreadful) from a script by Jenna Lamia (Good Girls, Awkward), itself adapted from the Grady Hendrix novel, My Best Friend’s Exorcism has a gifted cast; Fisher and Miller believably convey the joys and agonies that can erupt amid friendships between teen girls. If only the horror story that entangles their characters had been a little less formulaic, the end result could have been way more memorable.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism hits Prime Video today.
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