In 1973, theater-goers were introduced to the world of The Exorcist. The movie sparked a cultural phenomenon and its influence sullied the public’s and church’s view of the Ouija board, casting it in a devilish light. Even those that have not watched the movie either in part or whole are familiar with its iconic imagery, as many movies have paid homage to it over the years.
In its time it was viewed as a truly horrific and terrifying film, though by today’s standard it would be considered par for the course. So entrenched in our culture is the narrative that it’s instantly recognizable by even the uninitiated: a girl is possessed, priests show up to perform an exorcism, and lots of terrible things happen. Given the success of the original film and the book it was taken from, it’s little wonder that television networks nowadays would return to its spooky setting.
If you’re considering whether to watch the television series The Exorcist, currently airing on Syfy in the UK, here are some great reasons to do so.
It’s Not a Reboot
In the past several years, we’ve seen lots of networks diving into the history bins to mine what they can from popular shows and movies past. For good or ill, we’ve now got MacGyver and Lethal Weapon, Frequency and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and at least a few reboots that are continuing to do well, like Hawaii Five-0. Thankfully, writers and producers decided that rebooting The Exorcist wasn’t in anyone’s best interest, especially given the television format.
Instead, this is a continuation of the mythology and world the original movie introduced us to. While none of the main characters from the film pop up (yet?), the original story is cleverly referenced via an internet search about exorcism conducted by Father Tomas. This modern story takes place 40 years after the events that plagued the MacNeil family, only this time it seems the demons might have grander ambitions in mind.
The writers have taken the all-too-familiar trope of child possessed/exorcism needed and use this newer story to add more layers to the narrative. Now we have a different family whose members are struggling with various “demons” of their own, ranging from mental handicaps to grieving the recent death of a friend. Of course, it turns out one of them is really possessed, able to hide behind all the familial chaos going on around it.
Topping out the cast is Geena Davis, an actress well known for decades of film roles, as well as writing and producing. She gives a polished performance of a career woman attempting to balance the roles of manager, wife, caretaker, and mother. Playing her husband is an actor perhaps best known for his comedic performances, Alan Ruck. Here he flawlessly plays the part of an addled father who appears to have succumbed to early-onset Alzheimer’s. He can’t remember much and has difficulty remaining in the moment during conversations. He is charming and polite in his lucid moments, but heartrendingly confused and despondent, a man who understand his plight on some deeper level and knows he can do nothing about it.
Portrayed by Alfonso Herrera, Father Tomas is a rising star among the clergy. He is a man very much rooted in the present, believing demons and the like to be fictitious and nothing but a metaphor for the darkness that can be found within us all. It is with some reluctance that he listens to Geena Davis as she reveals her belief that something ominous resides in her house.
Reluctance, at least, until he starts having dreams that connect him directly to Father Marcus. We won’t spoil those particular sequences, but fans of the movie should find some satisfaction in them. Tomas is then left with a conundrum when he finds both Marcus and the contents of the dreams to be real. Are demons present in the world? Were the dreams a message from God?
Most Western audiences might not be familiar with Herrera, who made his mark as a member of the Latin pop group RBD. Since the group’s split in 2008, he’s made a name for himself as a Mexican actor. He’s made almost a dozen movies and appeared on countless television shows, including Sense8. His portrayal of a man questioning his faith and coming to terms with a new reality is gripping and remains on-point through the entire pilot.
That brings us to Father Marcus, the other pillar supporting the show. In contrast to Father Tomas, Marcus knows very well the reality of demons and exorcisms and, for better or worse, is deemed the preeminent authority on the matter. He presents himself as a man who questions his role in God’s plan, yet is of such begrudging faith that he always dons his hat and sets out on the road when called. He’s a man torn between past failures and duty to try again. Despite his knowledge, you get the feeling he’s just barely hanging on in the fight against evil.
Marcus is played by Ben Daniels, an English actor with quite a large repertoire spanning the stage, Broadway, television, and film. This year he’ll play General Merrick in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s a treat to see Daniels and Herrera in their brief scene together at the end of the pilot, and it should be interesting to see their dynamic unfold.
Suspense, Not Gore
The movie was of such a graphic nature that Roger Ebert purportedly quipped that it was “stupefying” the film didn’t receive an X rating. Most favorable reviewers alluded to the sheer terror the film invoked, which undoubtedly led to it becoming the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time.
If you’re looking for more of the same, you’ll be disappointed. This is, after all, a series intended for television. Instead, we’re presented with more of a psychological terror, one that builds upon the audience’s knowledge of the film. While you may not be particularly impacted at the outset of the pilot, you’ll definitely be drawn into the terror at its culmination, especially when the demonic presence finally makes itself known.
The Exorcist airs Wednesdays at 9pm on Syfy in the UK.