The Exorcist TV series is technically more of a sequel to the classic movie rather than a reboot or reimagining and continues the trend of movies being turned into TV shows, 12 Monkeys, Fargo, Hannibal, Bates Motel, Damien (The Omen) and Limitless to name a few. While a lot of these shows turn out well it can be a hit or miss move, as shown by Bad Teacher and School of Rock both having had terrible TV adaptations. It really seems to depend on the strength of the source material. So being based on the 1971 book and the 1973 classic horror movie, now known to the younger generations for it’s over the top special effects to the point of hilarity, can The Exorcist make a successful transition to the small screen?
The quick answer is a resounding YES. While today’s audiences may feel that The Exorcist isn’t that scary and true enough, compared to today’s horror you really can see it’s age, once upon a time it was genuinely one of the scariest movies ever released and has continued to inspire work even today. It’s a classic in every sense of the word and the TV series manages to bring that classic horror feel in to the modern day without it feeling tacky. It also avoids the pitfalls of some horror movies set in modern day, in that while there is modern technology available it thankfully never relies upon it for a cheap scare.
Not only does it manage to keep the horror feel, it doesn’t often resort to jump scares, but when it does they are terribly predictable ones. Predominantly though it relies on suspense, and some decent camera/wire work to generate its horror. Thankfully it’s not a series that feels constantly in dread as shown in South Of Hell either, The Exorcist is able to keep a bit of humor at play and genuinely made me laugh more than once. Which I think is important when it comes to horror as it makes it a bit easier to watch and lifts the mood, if only to give you farther to fall the next time they want you to soil yourself.
The cold open of the Exorcist shows a priest walking under a street light, shot in a particularly familiar way, it then starts to build some suspense almost immediately showing the style of horror the show aims for. Once we get into the show we are introduced to the characters relatively quickly and without much exposition. It can feel like we’re being dropped in to the middle of a story that’s already in progress, but in just a couple of minutes we can judge the characters for ourselves and as the expostion is explained throughout the story you can just relax and enjoy the ride.
The story follows Father Tomas, when he is called in to help the Rance family as the mother believes that both her house and her daughter are possessed by demons. As the daughter was recently in a car crash in which she lost her “friend” initially Tomas doesn’t believe her, explains that demons aren’t real, and that inner demons like depression can have strong effects on people. However, haunted by his dreams in which he watches a priest perform a particularly intense and graphic exorcism he starts to investigate the possibility of demonic possession (watch for the Exorcist movie reference), which leads him to meet Father Marcus.
Some of the series feels inspired by Insidious from the music at the first “The Exorcist” title card and even some of the lingering shots reeked of James Wan. The shots involving the actual exorcisms are pretty well filmed as well, although maybe a little too dramatized for my liking. There is a lot of imagery throughout the first few episodes and the feel of the show gets progressively darker and more intimidating. This is shown through both character designs and the fantastic acting portraying a, though stereotypical, still scarily real abusive relationship. In fact, the acting across the board is fantastic and gripping but unfortunately, so far the characters are fairly cookie cut. We have Father Tomas who is the definition of a righteous man and a man of the people, the renegade that has lost his faith, the overprotective mother, the abusive relationship etc. etc. however the acting more than makes up for it.
This does leads to one of the main problems with the Exorcist, a ton of characters are all introduced at once in just the pilot and so much time is given to them defining their own characteristics that the pacing can feel a little slow and the show, a little boring. The pace does pick up towards the end of the pilot and continues to do so throughout the next couple of episodes so I’d highly recommend watching two or three episodes before making a decision. As it’s not until episode two that we properly start dealing with demons and the church. The church being a secretive, corrupt group that puts making themselves look good over the good of their parish, adding even more conflict for good aul Father Tomas.
Even though it does slow things down a bit, it’s nice to see that so much time has been dedicated to defining these characters as they should be, and hopefully as there’s still plenty of time for growth the characters may surprise us yet, as they are interesting characters but as it stands I’m more intrigued by the demons, they come across as clever, sneaky, terrifying and organized. We only see a handful of demons, only two of which seem important but due to their apparent hierarchy they are still somewhat of a mystery. They’re also a few steps ahead of the humans, as they have some overarching plan in play that is actually referenced right from the start, mostly in a style that will probably only be noticed on a second watch.
Given the legacy of the movie that came before, I thought I was going to be disappointed with this TV series and I am so glad I was wrong. While the pilot is not the strongest, after just a few episodes I am pretty hooked. So I’d highly recommend you check out The Exorcist tonight at 9.00pm on the SyFy channel.