Growing up, I always heard rumblings that The Exorcist was the scariest film ever made. The teenage me was too much of a scaredy-cat to ever consider watching it. Fifteen years on, my incredible community suggested I give the book a go, so here we are.
I’m not sure if this is a baptism of fire, but I was a little apprehensive.
But please don’t confuse things. Fear wasn’t what was making me worried, it was the fact that I don’t believe in spirits or exorcisms, and have no leaning towards religion whatsoever.
My main worry was that the book is a total bore.
It pleases me to no end to tell you that in fact, it was quite the opposite.
This book is filled with so much more psychological horror than I ever bargained for. In my head, I’d already made prejudgements about it being a schlocky haunted-house plot, but the depths explored here go way beyond.
More Than a Jump Scare
You can probably gather from the title that the main focus of the story is based upon the exorcism of Regan, a young girl living with her mother Chris MacNeil, a Hollywood film actress.
As the story develops, Regan’s behaviour starts to become erratic, culminating in her now-infamous appearance at the dinner party; where she wets herself and proceeds to tell the astronaut, he’ll die up in space.
It reaches a point where Chris cannot take anymore, her options regarding doctors and psychologists, people she doesn’t trust, to begin with, are exhausted. Her only option is to take the advice of a neighbour and look deeper into the many forms of witchcraft, leading her to the belief that Regan is possessed.
Here, Father Karras comes to the forefront of the story and takes the leading role away from Chris.
The character of Chris is on the brink of a breakdown, facing off with all her house-help, becoming paranoid that one of them might be the cause of Regan’s trauma.
These are the elements that give the story a much larger weight of mystery.
For me, the most enjoyable part is when Father Karras discusses his reasons for not wanting to do an exorcism. By performing such an act, he would be legitimising to Regan something that he doesn’t believe genuinely exists within her – a demonic possession.
In contrast, this isn’t a demon possession; it’s a breaking down of mental health caused by the trauma of her parents splitting up.
Regan has internalised all of these things and deemed it her fault for the split; therefore, she must be the devil.
Adding this plot point, even if it isn’t a significant part of the story, adds an incredible amount of dynamism to the character of Father Karras.
He’s easily my favourite character throughout. Using real-world truths to try and trump any supernatural beings makes an exciting twist on the usual Priests and Vicars seen in these types of stories.
I was a little disappointed by the ending of the book, which I felt was a little too rushed. This left a small taste of discomfort in a seemingly enjoyable novel.
The Exorcist is a fun haunted-house type of book that offers plenty of solid scares.
However, if you look beneath the surface, there’s a darker look at the breaking down of mental health that was far beyond its time. Maybe this is what makes it so scary.