“The Exorcist” on FOX
William Friedkin’s 1973 adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist remains one of the most uncompromising horror films of all time. Even 40-odd years after the film hit theaters, it remains humorless, horrific and hard to watch.
FOX’s weekly horror-drama take on The Exorcist borrows a couple of bits from the original book/movie combo (actress/mother with a possessed daughter, a set of familiar steps and the umpteenth use of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells”). But what the original iterations did so well was set up a completely sober, scientific, agnostic atmosphere out of which the frightening “truth” about supernatural possession could suddenly spring. By the time Linda Blair’s head started spinning late in the original film, audiences were hooked and horrified. But after a series of decreasingly effective sequels and countless knockoffs, audiences are pretty hip to the whole demonic possession schtick.
“The Exorcist” does try to milk a bit of tension out of questions about real-world mental illness. Are these people possessed by demons or are they simply troubled? Sorry, guys, we’re not falling for it this time around. We know it’s demons. Just get on with the puking and levitating already.
Jeremy Slater, the creator of FOX’s reboot, is unfortunately the kid who wrote 2015’s awful Fantastic Four reboot. To give him some credit, he says his script was better than the finished product. With “The Exorcist” he shows a few glimmers of originality. But not many. He’s ditched the older/young priest combo of Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) and Father Karras (Jason Miller) from the original version and replaced them with wide-eyed young priest Father Ortega (Alfonso Herrera from “Sense8”) and grizzled older demon-battler Father Keane (Ben Daniels). Geena Davis (of Thelma & Louise) replaces Ellen Burstyn as the concerned mother whose distant daughter (Brianne Howey) may be subletting her body to Satan. I think you can guess where all this is going. At least at first.
The actual exorcism sequences, tarted up with as much gore as network television will allow (not much), are still enough to get the blood pumping. But is this show really going to feature the epic exorcism of a child as the climax of every single episode? That’s gonna get old soon. Fortunately, there are a couple of twists on the formula—mostly in the suggestion that this show’s starter possession isn’t a one-off, but part of a wave of possessions. It’s a twist with some potential. An army of black-eyed demonic children would give our characters plenty to do on a weekly basis.
There’s some slick photography in the pilot and some gloomy mood-setting in the show’s primary Chicago setting. There are also some impossibly cheap jump-scares and a whole lot of exposition. If this works out to be little more than a 13-hour retelling of Blatty’s original story, it’s gonna get mighty dull. But if the producers find a fresh direction in which to go—and actually start delivering some scares—“The Exorcist” might be worth screaming about.