High school is hell. That much we all know. If you look back on your high school experience and think, “Wow, that was so great,” you were either a combination of a bully and a popular kid or on some kind of mind-altering substance that you should’ve been sharing with the rest of the class.
The diabolical nature of throwing a bunch of puberty-stricken adolescents together in one building has been the subject of teen films for decades. This has given us plenty of straightforward comedies over the years—most recently, Do Revenge’s hyper-stylized modern take—but slightly more rare is the high school horror movie.
Enter the new film My Best Friend’s Exorcism, based on the popular YA novel by Grady Hendrix, which sees high school as exactly what it is: a breeding ground for demonic energy. The film follows Gretchen (Amiah Miller) and Abby (Elsie Fisher), two longtime BFFs in the 1980s who are trying to make the most of their time together before Gretchen moves away. Intent on creating memories, they make the dreaded, classic mistake of messing with a Ouija board one night with their friends Glee (Cathy Ang) and Margaret (Rachel Ogechi Kanu), to typically malevolent results. When Abby is inhabited by a demon named Andras, she becomes her Christian private school’s biggest mean girl, threatening her relationship with her friends—and their lives—forever.
Other films like Ginger Snaps and Jennifer’s Body have similarly explored the difficulty of being a girl in high school through a metaphorical lens. But My Best Friend’s Exorcism seeks to touch on all of the different types of nuanced marginalization that teenage girls can go through. It’s not just dissecting how gender plays a role in high school relationships, but how burgeoning queerness and being a person of color can impact those experiences—two things often left out of similar takes on the genre.
Ahead of the film’s release on Prime Video this week, The Daily Beast spoke with the four main stars of My Best Friend’s Exorcism to discuss embodying possessions, 11-foot mutant worms, and bringing their experiences with fairweather teenage friendships to their characters, all before playing the hottest new game of the Halloween season: Demon Name or Royal Name.
Amiah, how fun is it to play an evil demon queen and vomit on people? Because the movie obviously does weigh some heavier subjects, but you also get the chance to be totally evil and cruel, and do the coveted slow-motion glamor walk into a room—which is a big dream for so many people, myself included.
Amiah Miller: I loved the parts where I was possessed, but it was also hard because I said and did a lot of mean things. And it kind of sucked because…some of the stuff I had to say to Abby! At the end of the day, that’s Elsie! Those were the hardest scenes for me. It wasn’t even the exorcism scene, it was having to say mean things to Elsie because I would die for her.
Elsie, you’ve had quite a bit of experience playing teen characters in all stages of adolescence. Was it fun to get to do something like this that’s still examining the complications of being a teenager but through a more light, fun horror lens—at least lighter than something like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, which you were in earlier this year?
Elsie Fisher: Definitely, and even Texas Chainsaw Massacre is like, genre. But that one’s definitely a lot more serious, so I really enjoyed [making My Best Friend’s Exorcism]. I think that’s something you see often in coming-of-age stories. There’s Percy Jackson and Harry Potter, where a lot of [the story] could be a metaphor for what being a teenager feels like. It feels that big, it feels like you’re slaying dragons. So it was fun to have a shot at that.
Rachel, this is your first feature film and you’re so wonderful in it. You strike this perfect tone between a mean girl and someone who’s just trying to navigate the hell of high school. You also get the honor of a very horrifically disgusting scene where you vomit out an 11-foot-long tapeworm. So all that said, what was it like to play Margaret?
Rachel Ogechi Kanu: It was definitely a rollercoaster. Like you said, this is my first big feature, so it was bringing that new actress thing to a set, but also playing the tough, brash, confident one. It was fun to lean into! I’m the newbie, I might as well just do it. The sort of sisterhood that I created with Elsie, Amiah, and Cathy was sort of a cradle in that confidence that I was able to bring to set.
The tapeworm scene was definitely very exhausting. I feel like every day on set, it was like, “Tapeworm scene’s comin’ up!” But once it came to that day, it was one of the most calm [during the whole shoot], because even though it’s fun and gory, it’s Margaret’s biggest insecurity with her eating metabolizing into its own demon. So even though it is a big, fun scene in the film, it has to be treated with a lot of care.
Amiah, what was it like to film the exorcism scene, because it’s physically demanding and you’ve got to do final girl horror movie screams. And I feel like whenever I watch an exorcism movie, I’m always so impressed by actors who are committing to something full-body like that. What was that day, or days, on set like for you?
Amiah Miller: Yeah, it was plural. It was days.
Elsie Fisher: Many, many days.
Amiah Miller: Exhausting days! They were, in the moment, not very fun, because I was focused on doing a good job. And where we were filming, we were in this cabin in Georgia. We were in the middle of nowhere, with no internet, completely secluded and not in our real lives at all. So I was very into that scene and into that character. I watched real exorcisms to prepare for that. And I prepared at night and after watching those I was supposed to just go to bed and I did not sleep.
Cathy, you identify as bisexual and your character, Glee, seems like she’s on the verge of starting to embrace her own queerness. What was it like dipping back into that world, of someone who is still trying to come to terms with this kind of thing amidst a friend group who doesn’t quite understand?
Cathy Ang: That’s part of what excited me so much about the film and the character. I don’t feel like I’ve seen many films that depict a young Asian-American girl who grew up really taking in [her] conservative Catholic upbringing, and [figuring out how] she could fit into that mold. Stepping into those shoes is a little heartbreaking. But we get to see that despite it all, Glee makes it through, and she even learns that she’ll still love and support her friends. And she realizes that all the love that she feels is so powerful. I’m just glad that she exists.
This film is a dissection of how teenagers can sometimes turn on their friends at any second, but we get to explore that with this friend group as demonic possession. Would you say the film reflects similar experiences you’ve had with fairweather friendships in any way?
Elsie Fisher: I had my freshman year, did sophomore online, and then graduated. But even the way specifically young actors end up interacting with each other, you either do have this kind of cutthroat relationship or you form these crazy, wicked strong bonds that last forever.
Amiah Miller: Like Elsie said, when you’re in this industry and there are so many other girls and you all want the same part, it kind of does feel like what I imagine high school would be like. That’s why I was a little nervous to work with someone so close to my age, and so closely, because there is always this competitive nature that comes with that. But with Elsie, she was so supportive of me and I was supportive of her and I think you can tell watching the movie that we just want each other to do a good job.
I wanted to wrap up by playing a game that I just made up called Demon Name or Royal Name. The demon’s name in My Best Friend’s Exorcism is “Andras,” so I’m going to give you two names, and I’d like you to try to guess which is the name of one of Andras’ friends in demonology and which is the name of a historical royal figure.
Elsie Fisher: This is really, really good. I’m ready.
All right, first round: “Vseslav” and “Valak.”
Elsie Fisher: Valak is sort of giving me Eastern European. Going to go with Vseslav. That one feels like a demon to me.
Amiah Miller: I don’t know if Valak is royal or not, but the vibes aren’t good. Elsie, I’m going to go with you.
Rachel Ogechi Kanu: OK, Veslav is giving me Vecna?
Cathy Ang: Valak…is a demon.
Unfortunately, only one of you is right. Vseslav is the Grand Prince of Kyiv from 1068 and Valak is the demon nun from The Conjuring franchise.
Elsie Fisher: I think that was actually, truly hard.
Round two: “Naberius” and “Berenguer.” One’s a demon, one’s a royal.
Amiah Miller: Mm-mm, Berenguer’s not nice. Demon.
Elsie Fisher: I feel like there’s a little switcheroo here. I feel like Naberius is kind of a red herring. Amiah, let’s go together on this. Berenguer’s the demon.
Rachel Ogechi Kanu: Naberius feels royal. Am I crazy?
Cathy Ang: Let’s go together here, Rachel. Naberius is royal. Berenguer’s the demon.
I am so sorry to tell you that you’re all wrong. Naberius is the demon and Berenguer’s the 11th century Count of Barcelona.
Amiah Miller: I was so sure, I was so sure! This is actually embarrassing.
OK, final round. “Haakon” and “Balam.” Which is our demon, which is our royal?
Elsie Fisher: I think it would be really funny if we got every single one of these wrong.
Cathy Ang: Oh, Balam is a demon.
Rachel Ogechi Kanu: I feel like my first reaction in the past has been wrong, so I’m going to go with Cathy [and say Balam is the demon].
Amiah Miller: OK, and I’m guessing that Haakon is the demon?
Elsie Fisher: I’m going to say, final answer: Balam is the demon.
Elsie, Rachel, and Cathy are all correct! Haakon was a Norwegian Earl. Balam is the demon!
Cathy Ang: If this was a drinking game, I would be dead by number two.
To be fair, this is an impossible game.
Elsie Fisher: Oh, it’s possible, because I just got one.