It’s impossible not to compare Fox’s The Exorcist TV show to William Peter Blatty’s novel or William Friedkin’s movie at least a little bit, which is a problem; showrunner Jeremy Slater has massive shoes to fill, and the program is going to fall short no matter what. The Exorcist in print and film have simply cast too great a shadow across the horror genre to be redone on any level.
Nevertheless, the show is making a decent run at it. Not great, but decent. Try to look at it on its own merits. Spoilers await below.
Pleasantly, this is not a reboot. A reference to the MacNeils’ travails with Pazuzu decades ago is made clear, so we can consider the show a sequel, of sorts (and not like the execrable Exorcist 2: The Heretic).
As for the cast, everyone did as fine a job as possible, given their material. Alfonso Herrera as Father Tomas was suitably confused, frustrated, and frightened; Ben Daniels as Father Marcus was the proper take-no-prisoners, knows-more-than-he’s-letting-on exorcism veteran; and Geena Davis was aging, uncomfortable, and unhappy as the lady of the house who thinks her daughter may be possessed by a demon. Not a demonic spirit, mind, but a demon. There’s a difference: a garden-variety, non-denominational ghost can be a demonic spirit, but a demon comes from Hell, and must be exorcised by a servant of God. A priest.
What’s lacking in the show are the stakes. We didn’t see enough of the Rance family to care about them, let alone like them. That may come in time, but without seeing something to be outraged by, perpetrated upon this nice, innocent Catholic family, who cares about what happens to them?
We know demons are evil; it’s one of the things that makes them demons. So the flashbacks of Father Marcus trying to save the kid in Mexico and failing don’t quite cut it. They killed a kid. That’s horrible. But so what? And when you consider that Father Marcus was acting against the wishes of the Vatican in his exorcism technique, it can be reasonably implied that the kid’s death was, in part, his fault. Are the writers going to go anywhere with that?
I liked Marcus’s references to “they” when talking about the demons; there’s an implication of a broader plot, which would up the stakes and make us care some more. The effects were creepy when necessary, and there’s a general sense of dread throughout.
This is a program I really want to like, so I’m hoping it gets better in subsequent episodes. The start is flawed but promising. Bring us more darkness, more horror, more pathos. Make us feel something.