In the poverty-stricken streets of the Mexican slums, a priest, Father Marcus (Ben Daniels) tries to perform an exorcism of a young boy and risks the wrath of not only a demonic force but of the Vatican itself. he is determined to free the boy from what assails him, but faces losing everything he has.
In Chicago, young priest Father Tomas Ortega, tends a small flock of parishioners and tries to tell them of God’s wonder in down-to-earth and relevant ways. One of the parishioners, Angela Rance (Geena Davis), comes to him saying she feels a presence in her home she can’t explain. Ever since one of her daughters, Kat (Brianne Howie) came home from college and stayed sullenly in her room, there’s been a darkness over the home that even her other daughter, the bright and breezy Casey (Hannah Kasulka) can’t dispel. Ortega is reluctant but visits the home and does indeed feel that something is wrong – not least in a strange warning from Angela’s husband and apparent Alzheimer’s sufferer, Henry (Alan Ruck) . Tomas is still not sure whether it’s down to his own troubles with parts of his faith but certainly feels that something is not right. When he later starts to inexplicably dream precise details of Father Marcus’ activities in Mexico, he decides to learn more about the man and manages to track him down.
It is a meeting that will set both holy-men on a collision course with something that is not remotely holy at all…
Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be paid to The Exorcist is that it doesn’t feel remotely like a network television show. The remit of mainstream primetime product seems to be to deliver as much action as fast as possible, scared that the audience’s devolving attention-span will wander off in search of something else before the ad-breaks. But this is a production that seems to be in search of the long-game and as a result it is in no hurry to show its hand. In many ways it’s an ‘inaction’ show, talking and hinting and exchanging knowing furtive glances with the audience as it starts to gain a little momentum.
As it stands resolute at the edge of religion, the borders of faith and the back-alleys of the real world, The Exorcist‘s pilot paints the unexplained as ugly, dangerous and something to run away from if you have any sense…
This is not the world of sparkly nosferatu or misunderstood lycanthrope – aligning itself with the tone of the original materials (both book and film) it has no desire to make the demonic seem remotely attractive – as it stands resolute at the edge of religion, the borders of faith and the back-alleys of the real world, The Exorcist‘s pilot paints the unexplained as ugly, dangerous and something to run away from if you have any sense.
Jeremy Slater’s screenplay gives a spin on both William Peter Blatty’s novel and the William Friedkin-directed original film. Nicely balancing some old-school tricks and some inventive, though never flashy, cinematography,
Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and his adept direction, seek to create a mood of faded colour and urban hues – grounding the fantastical in the mundane. In this important choice it largely succeeds and if you find yourself noting a few horror tropes along the way, then one can put that down to homage rather than laziness – remembering that the cinematic Exorcist film of 1973 was a benchmark and classic head-turner itself.
Though, as always, the series’ success will have to be judged by what comes after this introduction – and there are hints that it will expand the source material’s singular remit to do so – this is a promising start, an unexpectedly nuanced and intelligent start to the story. Purists and die-hards will probably not find it as good as the landmark original and the question will be whether the series can extend that premise and keep it as compelling as it goes forward – always a difficulty. Though there are special-effects and things that do worse than bump in the night, The Exorcist seems to be less about demons and more about humanity – a study of faith and the loss of it. It is not the kind of mainstream show you’d expect and that may explain why it gained less viewers in its Friday debut than the limp MacGyver or predictable Lethal Weapon reboots – however that fact is still deeply dispiriting. But it does seems like the kind of show that may thrive through word of mouth and the viewing habits of a more discerning audience.
Not perfect, but it’s still well worth moving heaven and earth to find…
The Exorcist is broadcast in the US on FOX on Friday nights at 9:00pm and will debut in the UK on SyFy on 19th October.
- Suitable pacing9