The Exorcist: The First 3 Episodes
(Airs Fridays at 9/8 Central on Fox)
Father Tomas, a young priest in Chicago, is approached by one of his parishioners about a problem in her home. Angela Rance is convinced there is a demonic presence in her home. She hears voices and things that shouldn’t move. Angela believes her eldest daughter, Kat, is the source of the presence and that it’s connected to the tragic death of a college classmate. Tomas begins receiving visions of another priest, Father Brennan, who fails to exorcise a demon inside a young boy and loses the child. These various figures converge in Chicago where a larger evil looms, bigger than just one young woman’s possession, that could have apocalyptic repercussions.
I didn’t watch the original 1973 film until I was a senior in college and found it to be an excellent example of the golden age of horror in that period. The way director Friedkin walked the line between the shock of horror and building atmosphere was perfect paced. What I loved most was the ambiguity of Regan MacNeil’s possession. There is never an explanation as to how this happened to her and that is a terrifying element.
The new series on Fox apparently takes place in the same universe as the original film. An incident in Georgetown in the 70s is mentioned by a priest when discussing possession. I love that they didn’t feel a need to ignore the original film. The series is a very different animal than the movies, though. There is a bigger emphasis on a larger conspiracy that permeates Chicago and seems connected to multiple possessions happening across the city. As a result, the series loses the intimacy of the 1973 film. Friedkin’s Exorcist was solely focused on a character exploration of Father Karras and the incident in the MacNeil household. If the television series had been on HBO or FX, I could see it having a quieter focus but because it’s on network television and up against increasing spectacle it has a more Lost-like sprawling narrative developing.
The largest problem with the series, and I suspect it’s due to network standards and practices, is that it is rarely actually scary. There are a handful of moments in the first three episodes that are creepy and only one I would say was genuinely scary. The interactions between the demonic presence and the priests is played a little more broader and as a result the demons don’t feel that intimidating. They talk too much and are too direct instead of toying with the humans who want to expunge them. Because of the mandated commercial breaks, the building of tension and suspense is constantly undercut. Good horror needs adequate breathing room to let itself take root and slowly grow. There’s a sense in each episode that suspense is focused in those acts from commercial break to commercial break, rather than an overarching tension to the story.
I’ll continue to stick with the series for this first season, but I sense it will become much less about the intimate horror of a family and the crisis of faith in a priest confronting that horror and more about the political machinations of the devil to bring about the apocalypse.