Fox's pilot promises top-notch acting and feature-length production values
This is not a remake or a reboot or a reimagining or whatever they’re calling such things nowadays. That should come as a relief to the legions of fans who believe the idea of doing another version of William Friedkin’s classic 1973 film, The Exorcist, to be unthinkable. Oddly enough, producer/writer (and Notre Dame graduate, for what that’s worth) Jeremy Slater is among them. Slater has stated for the record that his initial reaction upon being approached to help create Fox’s new Exorcist miniseries was, “That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard because you’re never going to be better than the original film. You’re just going to be longer than the original film. So I shouldn’t do it and you shouldn’t do it either.”
Instead, Slater convinced Fox to forego a straight remake and craft a moody sequel of sorts set in the modern day, retaining only some of the movie’s basic structure. Ben Daniels plays Father Marcus Keane, a veteran exorcist engaged in spiritual warfare in far off lands. Alfonso Herrera is Father Tomas Ortega, a young cleric with a decidedly more scientific take on Church matters. Geena Davis portrays Angela Rance, a mother who believes one of her teenage daughters might be under the influence of a malevolent spirit. With these three characters, the dynamic of the principle relationships mirrors those of the original movie.
But that, along with a few weird noises in Angela’s attic, is pretty much where the similarities end. The mother this go-around is a regular Mass attendee who has been leaning on the Church for emotional support following her husband’s debilitating brain injury. When Angela’s normally gregarious eldest daughter begins acting sullen and combative, she rather quickly decides the devil is to blame and seeks help from her local pastor. Fr. Tomas (incorrectly) tries to explain to the harried mother that so-called possession is nothing more than Church-speak for a variety of mental illnesses, but Angela insists he visit with the girl anyway. Things don’t go well.
Friedkin’s film, which was based on the 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty, spent a lot of time following the various efforts to determine the cause of the daughter’s ailments, with no rush to arrive at a supernatural conclusion. Not only did this realistically reflect the way the Church actually approaches exorcisms, but it allowed time to explore the characters’ misgivings about God, the devil, and everything else. While the movie has multiple subtexts, it is ultimately a sermon on faith and Satan’s desire to use doubt to crush it. Fairly remarkable considering the director’s secular leanings.
In this new chapter of The Exorcist, however, doubts are dismissed rather quickly. Fr. Tomas starts off a skeptic, but after experiencing a couple of creepy visions and a gruesome incident involving a crow, he is completely on board and seeking out Fr. Markus. Unfortunately, he finds Markus in forced seclusion following the death of a child during his last attempted exorcism. Instead of a fierce warrior, Tomas discovers a man living in fear. Taken together with Angela’s woes, a possessed daughter and a husband trapped in his own mind, what The Exorcist miniseries presents is people riddled not with doubt, but rather with despair at having their worlds turned on end.
At least that is what we are given in the pilot episode. With hints dropped that the diabolical forces at work may have grander schemes in mind than just tormenting a single family, we are likely to see a widening of the story as the season progresses. Whether audiences will want to stick around and see how the narrative unfolds remains to be seen. The production values on the show are of feature-length quality and the acting is all top notch, but as is often the case, the pilot episode is a little wobbly in the story department. Most television productions take three or four episodes to find their feet, so hopefully little glitches like Fr. Tomas’ apparent ignorance of some Church teachings (bad seminary maybe?) and ridiculous moments like the one where Fr. Markus pulls a gun on a fellow priest, will be (ahem) exorcised from the proceedings. Also, the only real scares come in the effectively creepy final five minutes, so those interested primarily in chills will likely be underwhelmed if that trend continues.
The Exorcist is off to a shaky start, but it has promise. The original movie was a favorite of the recently passed Father Gabriele Amorth, one of the Church’s leading exorcists, who admired the movie for its artistic quality and substantial exactness in regards to the rite. If the show can maintain those elements from the original while offering a compelling new story, it may be something worth watching.
More to watch…Video: Jesuit Priest Talks About Real-Life Exorcism
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More to read: How to Beat the Devil: Advice from Rome’s Chief Exorcist