When I heard that Amazon Prime was adapting Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism, I was over the moon. After all, it’s one of my favourite horror books, and even though demonic possession is a key plotline, the book’s main focus was always the friendship between Abby and Gretchen. The movie, however, is not quite on par with the book. Not because I’m one of those lit snobs always going on about how “the book is always better,” but due to the movie’s focus on the horror and comedy rather than the girls’ friendship.
Abby (Elsie Fisher) and Gretchen (Amiah Miller) are best friends. How do we know? Well, the movie tells us, and they also have best friend keychains. There isn’t enough time spent visually building up the friendship before the plot kicks in. This becomes detrimental later on, since we aren’t particularly attached to these characters and their friendship to care that these bad things are happening to them.
Rounding up the friendship group is Margaret (Rachel Ogechi Kanu), the only one of the group who has a boyfriend, a horndog character named Wallace (Clayton Royal Johnson), and Glee (Cathy Ang), who quietly nurses a crush on Margaret. The four have a sleepover at Margaret’s family cabin, and a fun night of girlish antics gets interrupted by Wallace, who’s brought drugs and wants to make out with Margaret.
Against their better judgement, the girls partake in these psychedelic substances, and go skinny dipping. Abby and Gretchen find themselves leaving behind the group to investigate an abandoned cabin, rumoured to be the site of a satanist ritual (the book takes place during the Satanic panic of the 80s). Given the popularity of Stranger Things, there’s been a keen desire to produce content centred on that time period. However, the 80s setting never feels authentic in My Best Friend’s Exorcism. It’s obvious that some of the girls are wearing wigs, and so it comes across more as dress-up for an 80s party rather than the real thing.
Things get spooky in the midst of exploring and while the two are running out of the place, Abby fails to see if Gretchen is following her, and loses track of her friend. They manage to find her later, but she’s livid at Abby for abandoning her.
When Gretchen shows up at school again, she’s not looking so good, and Abby struggles to fathom what’s going on with her best friend. Besides her detached demeanour, she’s also projectile vomiting and urinating in the classroom in front of everyone. It’s surprising that, considering the 80s setting, she isn’t immediately ostracised for her strange behaviour. New Gretchen also wants nothing to do with Abby, and humiliates her in public. Fisher does so well in channeling that teenage hurt and betrayal, torn between her love for her best friend and her desire to distance herself.
When Gretchen begins to target the rest of the friend group, My Best Friend’s Exorcism gets a little more interesting, as she uses their insecurities to punish them. Miller goes full blown Megan Fox from Jennifer’s Body here, but is never quite able to generate the necessary malice.
In need of some divine assistance, Abby turns to Christian Lemon (Christopher Lowell) of the Lemon Brothers, who’s into yoghurts (in an off-putting way) and wants to show his Bible-loving brothers that he’s just as spiritually strong as they are. And so the story builds to the inevitable exorcism, but there’s a severe lack of tension and stakes. Maybe a TV show would’ve been better, so there would be time to build up these characters and their relationships, as opposed to the rushed attempt we got with this adaptation.
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Damon Thomas' My Best Friend's Exorcism transposes the key events of the novel to screen, but fails to build the core relationships in an authentic and compelling way.
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