A young woman standing against a dark wall

Even in its darkest moments, My Best Friend’s Exorcism approaches its horrors with humor.

There’s something about the 1980s that make them the perfect setting for horror movies. The filmmakers behind My Best Friend’s Exorcism, including screenwriter and associate producer Jenna Lamia ’00E, effectively tap into that vibe, with lovingly rendered period detail to go along with their story of teenage demonic possession. Set in 1988, My Best Friend’s Exorcism stars Elsie Fisher and Amiah Miller as inseparable besties Abby Rivers and Gretchen Lang, who live in the same anonymous suburb, attend the same Catholic school and spend their time apart talking on the phone to each other. They fill out personality quizzes in teen magazines and obsess over the same celebrities.

Their bond is seemingly severed one night when they wander into an abandoned house in the woods, a place where urban legends claim human sacrifices once took place. They stumble across some sort of weird plantlike entity that seems to have a single eye staring at them. They turn and run, and while Abby makes it out into the woods, Gretchen does not. When she finally emerges from the house, there’s something different about Gretchen.

Like a lot of teen horror movies, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, which Lamia adapted from Grady Hendrix’s 2016 novel, uses its horrors as metaphors for teenage problems. As Gretchen becomes angry and withdrawn, eventually revealing to Abby that she was assaulted in the house and that “he” comes to her every night, Abby assumes that her friend was raped, and she futilely attempts to report the incident to authority figures. Later, Gretchen’s possession turns her into the kind of teenage queen bee familiar from movies like Heathers and Mean Girls, enacting more horrific versions of typical bullying behavior. It’s only late in the movie that Abby concludes that Gretchen’s behavior doesn’t come from trauma or adolescent mood swings, but rather from an actual hellspawn taking hold of her soul.

Four young women with their hands on a Ouija board

My Best Friend’s Exorcism | Written by Jenna Lamia ’00E | Prime Video

Even in its darkest moments, My Best Friend’s Exorcism approaches its horrors with humor, cleverly satirizing the cutthroat world of teen girl cliques. To rid Gretchen of her otherworldly tormentor, Abby turns not to a priest but to a cheesy fitness instructor, Christian Lemon (GLOW’s Christopher Lowell), who turns out to be an expert in both exercise and exorcism. Lowell brings a goofy comedic energy that enlivens the movie’s third act, while the story remains focused on the power of Abby and Gretchen’s friendship.

A former writer/producer and recurring player on the teen sitcom Awkward, Lamia has plenty of experience writing about the bonds between teenage girls, and she brings authenticity to the central relationships, including Abby and Gretchen’s friendships with Margaret (Rachel Ogechi Kanu) and Glee (Cathy Ang). Fisher, who’s best known as the painfully earnest protagonist of Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade, gives Abby a perfect mix of vulnerability and ferocity. She feels helpless in the face of Gretchen’s transformation, but she never gives up on finding a solution to her friend’s condition.

Lamia and director Damon Thomas balance that emotional depth with silly jokes and lots of suburban ’80s garishness, including a spot-on recreation of a gloriously tacky shopping mall, where Abby offers to pay Christian in frozen yogurt punch-cards. My Best Friend’s Exorcism builds to a showdown, but this isn’t a grand, intense vision of horror. Personal connection, rather than any mystical resource, is the characters’ greatest weapon against evil.

Bell is a Las Vegas-based writer and critic.