Balancing horror and comedy is no easy task.
It has to be the right mix of funny and scary, it's why so few films manage to achieve this balance. Taking its inspiration from the Grady Hendrix novel of the same name My Best Friend's Exorcism is a loving ode to films that mixed horror and comedy like The Evil Dead.
The film has all the 80s points for its title design and use of classic pop tracks, and knowing nods to other films. We're quickly introduced to best friends; Elsie Fisher's Abby and Amiah Miller's Gretchen both of whom struggle with their identity. Abby is plagued by bad skin and low self-esteem while Gretchen is living in the shadow of her devout parents' expectations. Along with their two friends; Cathy Ang's Glee and Rachel Ogechi Kanu's Margaret (themselves afflicted by self-worth issues). They party in a cabin one weekend when a demon attacks Gretchen and, quite possibly, possesses her.
The film works best when it zeroes in on the friendship between Abby and Gretchen. The possession plot works as a way of examining female friendship during puberty and societal issues. As the demon takes hold of Gretchen she begins to isolate herself from her friends turning them on each other and very cleverly director Damon Thomas and screenwriter Jenna Lamia begin mining this for emotion.
What the film becomes about is the spectre of trauma, how our traumas and insecurities can manifest in ways that hurt ourselves and those we love. Perhaps Abby is just projecting her own fears of being left behind, perhaps a demon is taking Gretchen's soul, perhaps Margaret has an eating disorder. All of this is toyed with in the film's middle section which is the most fertile ground and most upsetting. Scenes of self-harm, homophobia, the spectre of sexual violence all add to the film's darker heart.
However, the desire to also be funny creeps in with the introduction of a Christopher Lowell's christian bodybuilder Christian Lemon. Acting as the exposition machine Lowell's meat head with a love of meat and God is a very welcome addition and provides the titular exorcism with more than just a standard segment of screaming quasi-religious phrases at someone thrashing around.
Director Thomas also has faith that Lowell along with Miller and Fisher can make the third act work better than it does on paper. The idea that the traditional exorcism might not work when it's about the power of love is interesting, but it's sold based on the chemistry between Miller and Fisher, both being given decent enough roles to flex their muscles.
By the end this isn't a disappointment but it going to streaming isn't entirely surprising, for fans of sub-Stranger Things excursions into a little sweary but not too upsetting horror this will fill the void until a new season and satisfy people not looking to be too challenged this Halloween season. For others, by the time the promise of compelling Christ is fulfilled it might not have been all that compelling.
My Best Friend's Exorcism will be available on Prime Video from September 30th