The teenage years can be scary, even without the threat of demonic possession. Throw a sinister supernatural element into the mix, and the experience becomes, well … only slightly more terrifying, actually.
That’s one takeaway from director Damon Thomas’ My Best Friend’s Exorcism, which delivers a scary-fun paranormal thriller filtered through a coming-of-age drama about two teenage girls in the 1980s whose lifelong friendship is threatened when one of them becomes the unwilling host of an infernal entity. That this supernatural encounter occurs while the girls are navigating young adulthood turns the typical social hellscape of high school into something more sinister, and tests their friendship in unexpected and terrifying ways.
Penned by screenwriter Jenna Lamia (Good Girls) and based on the novel of the same name by Grady Hendrix, My Best Friend’s Exorcism casts Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade) and Amiah Miller (War for the Planet of the Apes) as Abby and Gretchen, respectively, best friends whose bond was already being tested by their final year of high school before a demon named Andras decided to invade Gretchen’s body. Abby’s attempts to save her friend are complicated by the surprisingly similar ways the average teenager and malevolent demons tend to act, leaving her struggling to convince anyone of Gretchen’s supernatural plight.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism works well on a few different levels. On one hand, it offers a clever, straight-up juxtaposition between the frightening ordeal of one’s teenage years and the only-a-little-more-terrifying experience of battling a demon from hell for your best friend’s soul. Below the surface, though, it explores the way our confusing thoughts and emotions and unconscious drives can make every moment of our teenage years feel like a fight for survival, and the way a close friend can be our lifeline when things seem impossibly dire.
It’s also a funny story about mean girls and even meaner imps from hell, too.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism can be funny, frightening, depressing, or uplifting from moment to moment, depending on which aspects of Abby and Gretchen’s experiences you connect with, but the film never dives too deeply into that pool of emotions.
While it delivers some decent scares and clever humor, My Best Friend’s Exorcism seems content to occupy the happy medium between the various genres it pulls from. Thomas makes good use of the talented young cast and Lamia’s script keeps things entertaining and compelling, without offering many surprises.
Fisher and Miller have a great chemistry as friends whose lives feel inextricably intertwined, and Miller does a great job of selling her demonic possession — particularly when it’s so easily disguised as garden-variety teenage apathy. Fisher has a knack for channeling the awkwardness of adolescence, too, and finds just the right balance between shy wallflower and scream queen as Abby’s world suddenly becomes even more surreal and scary than she ever anticipated.
In a relatively brief supporting role, GLOW actor Christopher Lowell is also fun to watch as a bumbling, overconfident, Jesus-loving meathead who Abby turns to for help, and he makes for an entertaining counterpoint to Abby’s raging insecurity.
Never too scary or too dark, and never too silly or biting with its humor, My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a film that neither overreaches nor oversells its premise. Its story of two teenage friends battling a demon can be as simple as that, or it can be a narrative filled with underlying metaphors and themes that make an otherwise straightforward premise something deeper. Whatever way you choose to approach it, it’s a smart, satisfying scary story.
Directed by Damon Thomas, My Best Friend’s Exorcism will be available to stream September 30 on Prime Video.
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