In this month's round-up of faith & family media news, the next Friday the 13th has an angel and a demon on its shoulders; and The Chosen wows in its debut on The CW (but dips a bit after).
The Good and Evil of Friday the 13th
In 2023, Oct. 13 falls on a Friday, the traditional day of the week for releasing movies. And this year, moviegoers interested in faith themes have a definite choice.
UPDATE 8/31: The Exorcist: Believer has moved up its premiere to Oct. 6, not out of concern about Ordinary Angels, but because a concert film from Taylor Swift's Eras tour was just announced for Oct. 31.
As producer Jason Blum released on X (formerly Twitter):
Look what you made me do. The Exorcist: Believer moves to 10/6/23 #TaylorWins
We knew you were trouble, Taylor. We have made a swift decision to move ORDINARY ANGELS. Stay tuned for official new date soon!
First, the Good: Ordinary Angels
Fact-inspired Ordinary Angels, from Lionsgate's Kingdom Story Company division (the folks behind Jesus Revolution), stars HIlary Swank (Million Dollar Baby, Alaska Daily) as a hairdresser in Louisville, Kentucky.
During a huge snowstorm, she rallies the town to help a widowed father (Alan Ritchson, Reacher) save his critically ill daughter.
Nancy Travis, Tamala Jones and Amy Acker also star.
Swank was drawn to the movie “because it’s such a powerful reminder that angels reside everywhere among us,” she said. “And the faith, hope, grit and positivity are all powerful fuels for miracles.”
And Now, the Evil: The Exorcist: Believer
The Exorcist: Believer, the sixth in The Exorcist franchise, was originally announced as a reboot of the acclaimed 1973 original, itself inspired by a real-life exorcism.
But, sanity prevailed, and the new film is now a direct sequel to the original. When two girls vanish after school and then reappear days later, it soon becomes evident that they are possessed.
The desperate parents eventually turn to a mom with some experience in this area, Chris MacNeil, the mother of the possessed girl Regan in the original film. Ellen Burstyn reprises her 1973 role.
Said director David Gordon Green at EW.com:
"Her character ended up becoming fascinated by exorcism and studying the rites and rituals of possession throughout culture," Green says of MacNeil's life following the events depicted in Friedkin's film. "[She] became a bit of an expert. Not an exorcist herself, but renowned for the books that she's written."
Green also said that Linda Blair, who played Regan in the first film, did visit the set and act as a technical advisor.
This film is intended as the first of a trilogy, the second and third parts of which may premiere on streamer Peacock (the first movie will also land later on Peacock).
Catholic author William Peter Blatty penned the novel and screenplay for the 1973 The Exorcist, which had a heavy Catholic flavor and featured powerful theological themes.
Is There Faith Content in The Exorcist: Believer?
Yes, but I'm not sure exactly what it represents. The trailer (it's pretty graphic, so click here for that) does show a St. Dominic statuette next to a doll made of twigs.
There are also scenes of communion, with the voiceover saying "the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ." But congregants appear to be taking communion wafers themselves from a container, and the wine (juice?) is being handed out in little cups.
There are also brief looks at people crossing themselves, and a vested cleric swinging an incense-smoking thurible.
The church's central pulpit, set in place of an altar, means it probably wasn't shot in a Catholic church. And, the irregularities of the communion may mean we're seeing an Episcopalian, Lutheran or other Protestant denomination (or the filmmakers don't know what they're doing).
Beyond that, Raphael Sbarge has been cast as a "pastor," but there are no further details about his character.
One of the companies involved in this is Blumhouse Productions, which is known for often-gory mainstream horror films and the occasional drama.
So, I'd advise moviegoers to approach with caution and check out reviews before assuming this is anything like the original film.
Here's a 2021 interview with the director:
And, here's Bishop Barron on why exorcism films still draw audiences:
How Did The Chosen Fare on The CW?
In its first Sunday airing on The CW (which has been under new ownership since October 2022) on July 16, the Gospels-themed series The Chosen, starring Catholic actor Jonathan Roumie as Jesus, performed well.
THE CW | The Chosen‘s 90-minute broadcast-TV premiere averaged 520,000 viewers — a far mightier audience than, say, Riverdale, Nancy Drew and The Rising have been averaging this summer — and a 0.1 rating.
It dipped a bit the following Sunday, but not dramatically:
This CW run is remarkable in many ways. It's extremely rare (I can't even think of another instance) that an independently produced TV show of any sort -- let alone one based on the Gospels -- has landed on a broadcast network.
Streaming services, such as Netflix and Peacock, have also picked up the show.
What Else Is Up With The Chosen?
So, is Hollywood noticing? Very much so (in fact, in the link just above, The Chosen leads the headline).
Producers of faith-based shows are definitely paying attention, but also those who are seeking new ways to produce all sorts of things outside the studio system -- and still have a hope of winding up on major streaming services and a broadcast net.
But to have this happen to a faith-based show was probably unthinkable a few years ago. And it's not alone in the genre for producing unexpected (at least by Hollywood) success.
From a recent, and pretty comprehensive, Newsweek story:
The crowdfunded series that no one in traditional Hollywood saw coming has become so successful—the first three seasons garnered more than 110 million viewers worldwide—that The Chosen's worldwide distribution rights have now been sold to Lionsgate, better known for mainstream blockbusters such as The Hunger Games.
Meanwhile, one of this summer's biggest box office hits—and surprises—has been the faith-based action movie Sound of Freedom starring outspoken Catholic Jim Caviezel, who played the title role in Mel Gibson's 2004 The Passion of the Christ, as a federal agent on a mission to rescue children from sex traffickers.
And Jesus Revolution, a film released earlier this year about hippies turning to Christ in the 1970s, surpassed expectations to become Lionsgate's biggest release in over four years.
Need more proof that Jesus is suddenly a very hot commodity in the entertainment industry? Consider that MGM, 21st Century Fox and Sony Pictures have each launched their own faith-based studios.
Meanwhile, renowned director Martin Scorsese is planning a new film about Jesus and so is art house director Terrence Malick.
And Netflix has said it is working on bringing more faith-based content to its platform as well.
But, it could all fall apart if CW viewers continue to tune out on The Chosen. So, we'll wait and see.
Because it's not a studio production, The Chosen also was the first (but not last) project to get a waiver from striking actors' union SAG-AFTRA to finish filming its fourth season. It's expected to premiere in 2024 on the apps of The Chosen and Angel Studios (and maybe also in theaters, as the show has done before).
By the way, our own Head of Production, Father David Guffey, C.S.C., is a consultant on the show and appears in the seasons 1 and 3 Biblical Roundtables. In those, he's joined by series creator Dallas Jenkins, a Messianic rabbi and an Evangelical to dissect the episodes.
Here's a video of him talking about the experience:
Image: (L-R) Alan Ritchson and Hilary Swank in 'Ordinary Angels'/Lionsgate
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Content Manager at Family Theater Productions.