Adapting The Exorcist into a television program seems like a terrible idea on paper. A lazy cash grab designed to coast in part on name recognition. How could a TV show on a broadcast network possibly live up to one of the benchmarks in horror cinema, a film that was so successful both critically and commercially that it single handedly created its own subgenre (demon possession) that still thrives to this day?
The fact of the matter is that the creative team behind The Exorcist does a great job with these first several episodes, at least. Created by Jeremy Slater, recently infamous for writing the Fantastic Four reboot last summer, viewers are treated to familiar scares (the spider-walk makes an appearance, as does head spinning), as well as an expansion on the premise. It becomes clear early in the series that this won’t center simply on one young woman being possessed by a demon, but rather a larger conspiracy to be uncovered by our heroes. Think X-Files with Priests rather than FBI agents. Fans of the original film won’t be let down either; a glimpse of a familiar staircase during a character's research reveals this does take place in the same universe as the 1973 film, and this series serves as a sequel of sorts (and a bombshell in episode 5 reveals even more.....
It helps that the titular character Father Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels, channeling a sardonic Alec Guinness) is the force that truly drives the action. His character, a seasoned priest the Vatican routinely tasks with the duty of exorcisms, is well past the “needs convincing” stage, and knows a possession when he sees it. It’s refreshing to see a man of action so early in a series run. Meanwhile, Alfonso Herrera is charismatic in the role of Father Tomas Ortega, a younger priest showing great promise politically, but questioning his own fidelity to his chosen path. The supporting cast is solid, if underwritten. At first, it seems Geena Davis is underused in the role of the hand wringing mother of the young woman possessed, though her role expands episode to episode. I suspect several of the other characters will follow a similar trajectory. Another refreshing side note: I like that this show takes place in Chicago over Los Angeles or NYC, which seem exhausted at this point as shooting locations.
Skeptical horror fans should delve into this show with an open mind. Some fine performances, nice atmosphere, and respectful nods to the original film’s legacy make this a fun watch.
Airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on Fox.
Craig is a cohost of the Half Assed Horrorcast. His writing about horror has appeared on Bloody Good Horror, Fanboy Report and other places. Find him on twitter @4colorcraig.