TV Review: The Exorcist (Fox) Pilot

The first episode of FOX’s The Exorcist series is worth watching…

When The Exorcist was released in theaters in 1973, it became an instant phenomenon, shocking and terrifying audiences worldwide and breaking box office records before being nominated for 10 Academy awards (and winning 2 of the 10). Adapted from William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel of the same name – which was loosely based on a true story – the plot centers around the demonic possession of a 12-year old girl, her desperate mother’s attempts to save her, and two priests – one young, one older – who ultimately end up as the last line of defense in the battle for the girl’s soul. Central themes of good vs evil and crisis of faith enrich The Exorcist‘s story, and – along with masterful direction by William Friedkin and strong performances by the cast – elevate the film above what one might consider the “typical” horror movie. Plus, it’s damn scary, especially for its time. The Exorcist is cemented in our pop culture lexicon and it remains widely heralded to this day as one of the greatest horror movies ever made. Which means, of course, that any subsequent take on the story of The Exorcist – whether it be a sequel, a reboot or a remake (in a world seemingly over-saturated with sequels, reboots and remakes) – is likely to be met with not only a level of excitement, but also, a certain level of skepticism.

Luckily for us, the creators of FOX’s The Exorcist have understood this from the beginning, and have delivered a premiere episode that expands on the world of the 1973 film without altering it or spoiling its legacy in any way.

The pilot introduces us to a modern day story that exists within the same universe as the film, but is set 40 years later and with all new characters. It acknowledges the existence of the Georgetown events and there are homages to the film throughout the episode, and some of the characters and elements are familiar – two very different priests come together to help a troubled family dealing with what appears to be a case of demonic possession – but essentially, this is a new tale which promises to offer us a deeper mythology that can sustain a weekly series.

Directed by Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), The Exorcist pilot benefits from a strong cast that includes Alfonso Herrera (Sense8, The ChosenBen Daniels (Flesh and Bone, House of Cards), Geena Davis (Thelma & Louise, Beetlejuice), Hannah Kasulka (The Fosters), Alan Ruck (Spin City, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and Brianne Howey (Scream Queens).

It’s always nice to see Oscar-winner Geena Davis on screen, here as Angela Rance – a devout, troubled mother who suspects that one of her teenaged daughters might be possessed by a demon. As if having a possessed child on your hands isn’t stressful enough, Mrs. Rance is additionally burdened by the fact that her husband, Henry (in a fine turn by Alan Ruck), appears to have developed a form of dementia.

It’s the dynamic between the two priests, however – Alfonso Herrera‘s young, confident but somewhat skeptical/naive Father Tomas and Ben Daniels‘ seasoned evil-forces-war-veteran Father Marcus – that is particularly engaging, as the two men are unwittingly drawn together by forces beyond their control. Herrera and Daniels have a great on-screen chemistry and it will be interesting to see how these priests’ tense relationship unfolds in the coming episodes.

Along with a cinematic look and feel, some effectively chilling (and thrilling) scenes, a dose of intrigue and a lot of potential, the first episode of The Exorcist is worth a watch.

By the time the familiar chimes of the “Tubular Bells” theme song from the 1973 film hits at the end of the episode, you may just find yourself not only getting goosebumps, but compelled to tune in again.

The Exorcist premieres tonight, September 23rd at 9/8c on FOX.


More on the series from FOX:

Directed by Rupert Wyatt (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”), THE EXORCIST is a propulsive psychological thriller following two very different priests tackling one family’s case of horrifying demonic possession. FATHER TOMAS ORTEGA (Alfonso Herrera, “Sense8,” “The Chosen”) is the new face of the Catholic Church: progressive, ambitious and compassionate. He runs a small but loyal parish in the suburbs of Chicago. He has no idea that his quiet life is about to change forever. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, another priest finds himself locked in a life-and-death struggle with evil. FATHER MARCUS BRENNAN (Ben Daniels, “Flesh and Bone,” “House of Cards”) is a modern-day Templar Knight, an orphan raised since childhood by the Vatican to wage war against its enemies. Father Marcus is everything Father Tomas is not: relentless, abrasive and utterly consumed by his sacred mission. Caught in the middle is the RANCE family, members of Tomas’ parish. On the surface, they’re a normal, suburban family, but all is not as it seems in this household. The patriarch, HENRY RANCE (guest star Alan Ruck, “Spin City,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”), is slowly but surely losing his mind. Eldest daughter KATHERINE (Brianne Howey, SCREAM QUEENS) has become a recluse who refuses to leave her room. Her younger sister, CASEY (Hannah Kasulka, “The Fosters”), thinks she’s hearing strange noises coming from inside the walls. And mother ANGELA (Academy Award and Golden Globe winner Geena Davis, “Commander in Chief,” “Thelma & Louise”) has been plagued by recurring nightmares, each more frightening than the last. Angela believes there is something in the house, a demonic presence, growing stronger by the day. Desperate, she begs Father Tomas for help, unwittingly setting the naïve young priest on a collision course with Father Marcus. Separately, each faces an insurmountable task, but together they become the only hope against an evil force that has been mobilizing for centuries.

PRODUCTION COMPANIES: 20th Century Fox Television, Morgan Creek Productions

EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: Jeremy Slater, Rolin Jones, James Robinson, Barbara Wall, David Robinson, Rupert Wyatt, Roy Lee

WRITER: Jeremy Slater

DIRECTOR: Rupert Wyatt

CAST: Alfonso Herrera as Father Tomas Ortega, Ben Daniels as Father Marcus Brennan, Geena Davis as Angela Rance, Brianne Howey as Katherine Rance, Hannah Kasulka as Casey Rance, Kurt Egyiawan as Brother Bennett

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