For many people, William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel, The Exorcist, is one of the most terrifying things they’ve ever read. In addition to the author’s talent of weaving a truly terrifying tale, that fear is largely due to the fact that it was inspired by a real case of demonic possession. The same can be said of William Friedkin’s iconic film adaptation that released a few years later in 1973. Nearly 45 years later, Blatty’s world has made the surprising trek to the small screen, with Jeremy Slater at the helm. Though risky (and what remake/reinvention isn’t these days?), the pilot episode shows promise, not only because of the creep factor, but because of the star-studded cast’s grounded performances, and traumatic storylines we’re actually interested in following for the rest of the season.
Don’t be mistaken, Slater’s The Exorcist is not a remake. In fact, the plot centers on an entirely different family than the source material and is based in Chicago. Rather, think of it as an extension of the world where the tragic possession of Regan MacNeil is a fact.
In “Chapter One: And Let My Cry Come Unto Thee,” we’re introduced to veteran exorcist Father Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels); troubled mother Angela Rance (Geena Davis); Angela’s two daughters, Katharine (Brianne Howey) and Casey (Hannah Kasulka); and troubled young priest Father Tomas (Alfonso Herrera). Each character comes with their own emotional baggage, which is craftily woven together to create a strong foundation for the overarching plot.
What could have easily skipped down cliché lane has instead been given a fresh spin. By setting the show somewhere else and centering it around a different family, it avoids the risk of failing to nail the subject matter like the original. It also helps that the cast creates the illusion of a believable, albeit paranormal situation. While dealing with both her husband Henry’s (Alan Ruck) downward spiral into what appears to be dementia, and her withdrawn daughter, who is recovering from a tragedy of another kind, Angela is convinced that her home is haunted by an evil force.
Out of fear, Angela turns to Father Thomas, a priest at her local Catholic Church. Though inexperienced in the exorcism department, Tomas is drawn to Father Marcus, who has grown weary and emotionally drained from his work. Tomas witnesses one such exorcism in one of the visions he had of Father Marcus while the exorcist was attending to a case in Mexico City. The moment paints the older priest as one who cares deeply about his cases, and is affected when things go wrong, so much so that he is hiding from Rome, and is prepared to warn any priest he meets to stay away from exorcisms.
Taking a film and adapting it to a television series is a difficult task to accomplish without straying too far from the subject or getting repetitive. Something similar happened to both Damien (a show based on The Omen) and Rosemary’s Baby. But the pilot of The Exorcist on its own shows a surprising number of avenues that can be explored. Is Angela’s fear of her own home all in her head and a result of the stress she’s under? Nobody else seems to notice it. In fact, both Angela’s husband and her older daughter Kat tell Tomas that she is overreacting.
There is room to play with the psychological aspect, and push it further into the season. There’s also the matter of Father Tomas’ own problem with perception. When Tomas reaches out to Father Keane for the first time, the young priest is told that there are forces at work trying to manipulate him. So, are his visions of Keane accurate? The mystery behind why he is having the visions in the first place is enough to pull viewers in. Hopefully there is a better explanation for why he has been drawn to Keane, and what it means for the Rance family.
As for whether it is actually scary, there were a few cheap jump scares, but the effects were impressive by T.V. standards, and it is sure to frighten the audience. Whether they will remain that way is yet to be seen. That said, the real draw here will be watching the characters’ respective stories and beliefs unfold, and see how that influences the family at the center of the possession case. My hope is that it doesn’t aim too high only to fall flat midseason. Only time will tell.
Rating: 4 out of 5 burritos
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