Based on the popular novel by author Grady Hendrix, Amazon Prime’s new horror-comedy “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” is light as a feather and won’t have you bored.
Set in the ’80s, the film stars Elise Fisher (“Eighth Grade”) as middle-class Abby Rivers, who has been life-long best friends with upper-class beauty Gretchen (Amiah Miller). The girls do what most girls do at their age: take Cosmo quizzes, talk about boys they like (Abby has a thing for the young priest at their Catholic school), and listen to pop music (Boy George is a fave).
The two are joined by closeted Glee (Cathy Ang) and the confident Margaret (Rachel Ogechi Kanu), who happens to be dating the douchey Wallace Stoney (Clayton Royal Johnson). Things seem pretty status quo for an ’80s Catholic High School until the girls decide to have a sleepover at Margaret’s parent’s lake house. It is there that a night of Ouija Board playing, bad ecstasy taking, and teen-girl wandering cause Gretchen to be attacked in an abandoned shack on the expansive property. A shack that, town legends say, was where a young girl was sacrificed to the devil.
Soon enough, all is not quite right with Gretchen, and she begins to exhibit personality and mood swings, not to mention she’s just plain mean. Or is she? Is she really herself? Or something more?
That’s what her BFF forever Abby is going to find out. No matter who tries to stop her.
Directed by Damon Thomas (“Killing Eve”) and adapted from the book by actress/writer Jenna Lamia (“Resident Alien”), the film skews closely to the novel with a few minor tweaks. While the 90-minute running time certainly excises a lot of the intricacies and the slow burn of the story, it doesn’t lose so much that the book’s heart is lost. Because that heart is about the true power of friendship and loyalty.
There’s nothing truly surprising or new in the lives of these four friends. Abby has an unfortunate skin issue that makes her cake on makeup and hide herself. Gretchen is becoming a woman and navigating what that feels like. Glee is coming to terms with her feelings for Margaret (a plot point not in the book), and Margaret is trying to understand her love of attention from a boyfriend, who she’s slowly realizing is sort of a jerk.
Add in Gretchen’s unfortunate demonic possession, and you have a sort of John Hughes version of “The Exorcist.” Or an ’80s “Gossip Girl” with demons!
Having read the book, I was hoping the film’s finale would land harder than it did. The idea is there, but it doesn’t have the impact it could have to make you feel that ride-or-die connection between Abby and Gretchen. The humor is more cute than actually funny, making this a pretty light affair all around. It’s not scary either, but honestly, that’s not the point of Hendrix’s tale.
Thomas does a nice job of making the film seem like an old-school ’80s horror throwback mixed with that teen comedy sensibility – and in that, he’s successful. Fisher is always good and imbues the film with a warm center that guides the story through its paces. Similarly, Miller is clearly having fun playing the aspects of Gretchen’s morphing personalities as the demon takes over and makes her do some not-so-very-nice things. Christopher Lowell as a muscled-up Jesus bro is amusing as the guy Abby enlists for help in getting rid of what’s inside Gretchen.
All in all, “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” plays like a milder version of the book. It goes down easy, is fitfully entertaining, and has a nostalgia factor that many will find comforting. It might not raise the dead, but it’s not dead-on-arrival either.