The Exorcist First Impressions
MILD SPOILER WARNING: This review covers things are revealed fairly late in the first episode of Fox’s The Exorcist. Be forewarned.
In preparation for this first episode, I went back and watched the original Exorcist movie. Turns out I didn’t really need to, because this new show is a different beast altogether. Instead of being a more drawn out version of the possession and exorcism of one young girl, they appear to be going more in the direction of Outcast, with a more sprawling possession plot. However, that does mean that now I get to make comparisons to both the original film and Outcast, and that doesn’t do this show any favors.
The new Exorcist follows two priests, an older one and a younger one, as they try to deal with various demon shenanigans happening around Chicago and the Rance family. The older priest, Father Marcus, has a longer history with exorcisms than the other priest, Father Tomas, does. We get to see the most of Marcus in a flashback, showing us an exorcism he performed on a young boy in Mexico. Right off the bat, I need to say that my favorite parts of this episode were those dealing with Marcus. Played by Ben Daniels, Marcus was the character I was most interested in and wanted to learn the most about. In most of his scenes, we learn through conversation, not (all) exposition, some things about his past and his history with exorcism that help inform his character. Over the course of the exorcism, we get those moments of the possessed speaking in the voice of a loved one, trying to fuck with Marcus, but we’re never told who that voice belongs to. We just hear a couple of lines pleading for him to stop, then the exorcism progresses. It’s a small touch that maybe stands out more because the rest of the episode wasn’t that interesting to me, but there was some thought put into the writing which made me want to know more about a character, so that’s something.
But all that good stuff happened after a particularly weird introduction to Marcus. In his first scene with dialogue, we see him hanging out on a terrace or something, chilling out. He’s got his feet kicked up on the ledge, the radio playing some classic soul, and he’s incredibly flippant about losing his job and everything. And this is all after almost of exorcising a child. But once another priest tries to take him to a hospital, Marcus pulls a fucking gun out of nowhere and threatens to shoot him, getting serious all of a sudden about saving this child. It was a real sudden shift that felt incredibly awkward, like the director talked to the actor while he was off screen and reminded him he was supposed to be taking things seriously. I will say, though, that I do find the idea of a loose cannon priest thoroughly entertaining, especially when that priest is wearing something that looks like a bulletproof vest.
Father Tomas, played by Alfonso Herrera, is far less interesting of a character. He’s a couple of steps shy of being a “hip” priest. Instead of trying to relate to the youths, he goes for a more broad approach, telling biblical anecdotes and saying it’s okay to have doubts about your faith. We also get a bit of his backstory, this time through straight up exposition, that he was kind of forced into the priesthood by his grandmother. This does help give some context for him, but not to help me get invested in him. Which is unfortunate, because he seems to be the more important of the two to the plot. He’s the one at the center of everything that’s happening. The reason Marcus gets involved in the plot in the first place is because Tomas has dreams about Marcus exorcising that child, and those dreams were either brought about by divine intervention or demonic intervention. But again, that doesn’t make Tomas all that intriguing. He’s a likable guy and could serve a decent counterpoint to the more bitter and tired Marcus, but nothing in the writing or portrayal stands out.
The Rance family seems have to gotten the short end of the stick in terms of writing and character, though. Angela, played by Geena Davis, is the that has the most to work with on paper. Her husband is slowing slipping away due to Alzheimer’s, one of her daughters was just in a car accident that claimed the life of her friend, and the family home appears to be haunted. She hears voices coming from the behind the walls, and she says that books keep being knocked off shelves and chairs are stacked on tables, real Poltergeist shit. Unfortunately, Davis just doesn’t portray the stress of this well. When she goes to talk to Father Tomas about everything that’s been happening, she sounds less like a person who believes her family is being haunted by a demon and more like she thinks the lizard government installed cameras in her walls. It also doesn’t help that we only see her react to weird things happening on a single occasion before she says a demon’s in her house, which occurs in the very next scene. We don’t see any of the weird things she mentions witnessing except for the voices. We also don’t see enough of Davis’ character just living her life to make it believable that this woman (who has over 400 employees working for her which means she’s not crazy) would believe in demons, let alone that one was sleeping behind the drywall.
The daughters are wholly unremarkable. One daughter is happy and outgoing, on a sports team or some shit, and the other is bitchy, spending most of her time alone and not eating or sleeping that well. Though, it’s understandable, considering the car crash and everything. The father, played by Alan Ruck, does a decent job playing a character slowly losing themselves to Alzheimer’s, but I need to give some credit to the writing again. They never come out and say, “Oh, he has Alzheimer’s,” or anything like that. It’s sold in the first scene he’s in through two almost throwaway moments; when he forgets to shake Father Tomas’ hand at the end of service, and when Davis tells one of her daughter’s that he doesn’t have his hat on. Those two moments get across that Ruck’s not all there without ever coming right out and saying it or drawing too much attention to it. Later in the episode, when we get to spend more time with him, we see the more obvious signs of Alzheimer’s, on top of the bitchy daughter just being the worst, but that one half a scene near the beginning was very well done.
Since this is a horror series, there need to be some scary bits here and there, and they are all pretty bad. If this first episode is any indication of how this series will do horror, then you could probably play Shitty Horror Bingo. You’ve got a creepy guy standing in the distance, staring and rambling at the main character. You’ve got birds unexpectedly flying through windows (bonus points because it bleeds on the Bible). You’ve got two separate shitty jump-scares in poorly lit areas, one in a basement and one in an attic. The possessed themselves are also pretty laughable. The first, the young boy, barely looks or sounds interested in what’s happening, and the second is supposed to look like they’re being pulled by an invisible force, but looks more like they’re about to submit an application to the Ministry of Silly Walks. There’s also some inconsistency in how they portray possession. When we first see the boy, a decent effect is used where one of his eyes starts to roll back and a second pupil and iris pop up. But we see him later and he just has blackout contact lenses on. We see two other possessed people in the episode, one with the blackout lenses and other with the second pupil. The second pupil is a good effect that hasn’t been done to death yet in horror, so why not stick with that one?
This was not the best time for somebody to make a show based on The Exorcist. Straight up exorcism movies haven’t really been much of thing in recent years, and any that do show up don’t leave much of mark. This is also coming on the tail of Outcast, another show about exorcism, but with the added benefit of some actually new ideas in subgenre and the fact that Cinemax will let them show a kid eating the flesh right off his finger. Having a more traditional exorcism show, on a basic cable network like Fox, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
The Exorcist TV series didn't garner as much internet hate as some remakes do, and that's probably for the best because it definitely isn't worth it. With only a single interesting and the occasional bit of solid writing, it doesn't have a lot going for it. Most of the characters are uninteresting or flat, the scares they go for would barely make you jump, and the plot is something we've seen before in a better show about exorcism that just ended. Unless they rev things the hell up in the next episode or start pushing what the can do on their network, this series is going to be way too boring to be engaging or scary.