Review: My Best Friend’s Exorcism Is an ’80s-Set Teen Comedy With a Dark Twist

Directed by Damon Thomas and taking full audio/visual advantage of its 1988 period setting, My Best Friend’s Exorcism brings us into the world of high school sophomores and best friends Abby (Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade) and Gretchen (Amiah Miller), who, along with two other friends that round out their inseparable quartet, Margaret (Rachel Ogechi Kanu) and Glee (Cathy Ang), spend a weekend at a cabin in the woods belonging to one of their parents. After one of the girl’s boyfriends shows up to basically kill the bonding experience, the group goes skinny dipping and Abby and Gretchen end up exploring a nearby building that people tell all sorts of urban legends about.

Seemingly not alone in the place, the girls get separated, and while Abby escapes mostly unscathed, Gretchen is eventually found inside in a state of shock, or perhaps it’s something else. Angry that Abby left her inside alone, Gretchen’s moods swing toward irritable and abrasive, and she begins to pull pranks that are downright cruel, tapping into the victim’s deepest deepest fears or anxieties. For example, Abby has acne so bad that it has made her face blotchy, so much so that she wears a great deal of concealer to cover it up, so when Gretchen dunks her in a dunk tank after swearing she won’t, Abby is mortified that her makeup has all come off. Oh, and Gretchen has also acquired this new habit of occasionally projectile vomiting, which makes lunch in the cafeteria fun for all.

Abby does some investigation into what might be happening to her friend, and she even goes back to the place where everything changed for them. She begins to become convinced that Gretchen is possessed by some demon. Unexpectedly, all roads toward finding a solution lead her to a pair of faith-based body builders who perform at her school sometimes, and she convinces one of them, Christian (Christopher Lowell) to help her. Together, they decide to perform an exorcism on Gretchen (despite the fact that Abby is Jewish), and while neither one of these amateur exorcists have much faith or knowledge in the process, what it all comes down to is whether Abby and Gretchen’s friendship and faith in each other are strong enough to drive the demon out.

Director Thomas is best known for helming multiple episodes of series television like “Killing Eve” and “Penny Dreadful,” both dramas with hints of comedic pop. But My Best Friend’s Exorcism is more of a comedy with hints of horror, and while it may not seem like that much of a stretch, results may vary. Fisher and Miller are quite convincing as best friends, but the other two girls mainly seem to be there to have something of a Greek chorus commenting on everything going on without ever really contributing to the inherent drama of the situation. What I did like is the way the demon plays off the not-so-buried insecurities and pain within the people that Gretchen messes with; her unique brand of torture seems utterly authentic and especially brutal. Albeit brief, Lowell’s contribution to the party is a great deal of fun as he blends religious knowledge and motivational speaker energy. The film isn’t especially scary, but that’s not its primary mission. It’s gift is re-creating a late-’80s high school comedy with a dark twist, and on that level, it succeeds.

The films is now streaming on Prime Video.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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