The recent outpouring of love for Netflix’s Do Revenge has demonstrated that there’s an appetite for a modern and more malevolent take on the classic teen movies we revere. My Best Friend’s Exorcism is the latest example of this pleasing new twist on the genre and, although far from perfect, it’s an endearing and entertaining ride.
Abby (Elsie Fisher) and Gretchen (Amiah Miller) have been as close as sisters since fourth grade and have every reason to believe they’ll be best friends forever. So far they’ve supported one another through acne, body dysmorphia, religious zeal, inappropriate crushes and high school…there’s no reason to think that a little thing like demonic possession will come between them.
Margaret (Rachel Ogechi Kanu) and Glee (Cathy Ang) round out their friendship group and together the girls form a supportive and tight unit; essential for surviving life at their uptight, purity-obsessed Catholic high school. However, uncharacteristic tensions have been brewing lately so a weekend break at Margaret’s family’s lakeside cabin sounds like the perfect opportunity to reconnect.
Breaking out the Ouija board might not sound like a wise idea when you’re staying across from an infamous murder house but it has an irresistibly spooky appeal for the friends. Unfortunately just as giggles and shivers are lifting their spirits, Margaret’s jock arsehole boyfriend Wallace (Clayton Royal Johnson) materialises to share crude comments and owl-printed acid tabs.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism is based on Grady Hendrix’s popular YA novel and director Damon Thomas and writer Jenna Lamia have managed to carry across much of the tangible horror that simply existing as a teenage girl can bring. In particular, they make poignant use of Abby’s crippling self-consciousness about her spotty skin and the careful make-up mask she wears to face the world. They also share the painful reality of inhabiting a body you hate.
Insensitivity towards Gretchen’s dysmorphia cuts a skinny dip in the lake short and sets the central BFFs on a collision course with a dark entity at the heart of the woods and a series of well-observed misunderstandings that will have you humming Tubular Bells for days. With tangents that explore bodily autonomy, religious hypocrisy, growing apart and protein-loading demon experts – via lashings of bitchy comments – there is much to enjoy here.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism would make an epic sleepover movie, and that is high praise indeed. It is just the right combination of fluffy, bitchy, stylised and chilling to keep a roomful of sugar-saturated girls entranced. Heavy on the neatly updated Exorcist references, obvs, it also manages a pleasing number of nods to high school and horror classics making it appealing for those of us who watched those high school movies the first time round.
Yet it is not without its flaws. Though betrayed by its marketing, Jennifer’s Body beautifully encapsulated the furious intensity of female friendship and showed how well teenage girls pair with the dark side. And although My Best Friend’s Exorcism demonstrates an evident fondness for Diablo Cody’s feature – it is peppered with references – it lacks the same edge.
Once the devilish new Gretchen hits the school halls it pulls its punches in a way that teen girls never do. The black comedy camp of Heathers would be the perfect pitch for the girls’ increasingly nasty showdowns and lesser Lemon brother Christian’s (Christopher Lowell) disastrous intervention. Instead, the tone morphs into a weird hybrid of The Craft and the flabbier bits of Mean Girls.
Ultimately, My Best Friend’s Exorcism misses the opportunity to wallow in wickedness and that’s a pity. But this is rather a smashing film regardless, with vulnerable performances selling the harder truths of teen life, frank depictions of sexual identities and enough silliness to buoy the whole thing along with aplomb.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism is available on Amazon Prime from 30th September