First Impressions – The Exorcist (2016)

Because even though the month’s not here yet, the October feeling is already in full swing.

I am going to preface this now just so some of what will follow is put into a proper context. As horror movies in general go, on the short list of titles that have consistently been part of my favorites, The Exorcist has been a regular since roughly around when I first saw it in high school. Since then, having gone through the various iterations (which in all make for one of the most tonally/thematically inconsistent horror franchises I’ve encountered, but that’s a topic for another time), there’s been a lot of thought given to this brand.

Which is my way of warning you, some of that may creep into my thoughts on this new series.

…wow, with a lead-in like that, you’d think I was ready to burn this show at the stake.

Surprisingly, I’m not. I will admit I wasn’t going in with high hopes (memories of the lackluster to downright terrible remakes of The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby kept that bar good and low), but I still wanted to give it a chance, having previously been proven wrong by the surprisingly good quality of other movies-turned-series like Hannibal and Fargo.

What I got from this first episode was, for its own effort, a pretty good start.

Stick a pin in that ‘for its own effort’ now, guys. I’m gonna come back to that in a bit.

"Please, please, please let the elevator be working..."

“Please, please, please let the elevator be working…”

One of the biggest things to keep in mind about this series, both for good and for ill – it’s not the original story from the book/film. Like, almost at all.

The original story is one that’s great for a film format – it has just enough plot to fit the roughly two hour run time it needs (save a subplot from the novel that was trimmed to keep the pacing). As a series, however, they would have had to do a whole lot of padding out that would make for a very slow series overall and likely turn newcomers off fairly early (and unlike something like Hannibal, which had Graham and Lecter’s previously untold backstory to build on, most of the pre-story, save MAYBE Merrin, would be the non-supernatural family dramas prior to possession.)

As such, the showrunners decided to give their series a completely new story and characters to work with. One benefit in this case being that it gives the show less of a feel of living in the shadow of the earlier incarnation and more of a chance to really grow on its own.

"Look at it this way - it's still a basic network, Fox or not, there's no way they're gonna let that crucifix trick fly."

“Look at it this way – it’s still a basic network. Fox or not, there’s no way they’re gonna let that crucifix trick fly.”

The new cast, so far at least, are making a good first impression for themselves. Alfonso Herrera brings a degree of charm to his role as Father Tomas, the more equivalent ‘new priest’ of the two in this series, and does a lot for helping this first episode. As the other side of the ‘two priest’ dynamic, Ben Daniels’s Father Marcus is a character that will take a few more episodes to really get a handle on. What was shown so far was interesting enough, and Daniels brings a good intensity to the part, largely in flashbacks, but he’s still being played as a mystery here, so it feels like we’ve only gotten a small flash of what to expect.

As far as the family this possession centers around, I’m a bit more on the fence. There’s some good attempts at building up and fleshing out the family within this first episode, and the cast are likable enough, though I feel like the show might be overloading them in terms of story right now. I want to believe they’re going some place specific with Alan Ruck’s character having brain damage, but with the show jumping into possession right from the first episode, it really feels kind of contrived. Again, bearing in mind this is just first impressions, so I could be proven wrong.

As far as plotting goes, this feels like a rather front-loaded first episode. While that is somewhat to be expected with your opener, I do feel like some of this could have been played out a bit longer. Most notably with regards to the possession itself.

Thanks to Father Marcus’s flashbacks, the series already has a good hook and way to get some scares in from the start as well as possibly foreshadow things to come. By having the Rance family already coping with full-blown possession (up to and including Father Tomas being attacked by possessed daughter Casey), it feels like the show’s already got its foot firmly planted on the gas. I’m hoping this is just the first episode talking and they pace themselves a bit better now that they’ve got the audience’s attention, but again, we’ll see.



Pacing issues aside, there’s really only one point in this series so far that’s bugging me, and this is why I made it a point of mentioning my thoughts on the original at the start of this.

…I’m going to be perfectly honest – I have no idea why they’re actually calling this The Exorcist.

Well, okay, I get why in terms of a recognizable brand name, but that’s really about it.

I know earlier I spoke well of the new story and cast, and in and of itself, I don’t think that’s automatically a bad thing per se. But it also means there’s a gap that needs to be handled carefully in terms of still keeping up that name. Fargo, for example, introduced a whole new cast and story compared to the original Coen Brothers movie (even moreso come season two) but the series also managed to still get a lot of the tone and feel of Fargo, offering a different story that still kept in the vein of black tragicomedy served with a dash of Minnesota Nice for flavor.

By comparison, there’s very little here that even feels comparable to either the work of Blatty or Friedkin, save for the fact both stories involve a possessed girl and two priests. Even the tone and feel seem like a sharp swerve, eschewing the slow burn for rolling the horror out right out of the gate, and, as a consequence, snuffing out any potential for a crisis of faith storyline among the characters, as the evil has made itself known right away.

This isn’t enough for me to kill the series, and like I said before, taken on what its offering on its own, I am genuinely interested enough in what I’m seeing to keep following it.

"Well, they didn't find anything up here the last time they did this storyline, so what's the worst that can happen?"

“Well, they didn’t find anything up here the last time they did this storyline, so what’s the worst that can happen?”

At the same time, as a fan of The Exorcist, I’m not really seeing it here, save for a couple of stylistic tips of the hat in the show’s cold open and use of an attic, and the use of Michael Oldfield’s Tubular Bells over the ending that unfortunately calls more attention to how divorced this feels from its source than it does to reconcile it.

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe the show will earn its title more as it goes on. I will continue to watch and see. As it is though, for the time being, I’m just going to keep trying to convince myself the shared title is just a coincidence and try and enjoy this as something entirely new.

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This is what happens when a man takes a degree in English and the excessive analytic skills therein and chooses to use them for... this evil? I'm not sure. But there are monsters and potentially robots, so there's potential for evil. ...we'll get back to you on that.

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This is what happens when a man takes a degree in English and the excessive analytic skills therein and chooses to use them for... this evil? I'm not sure. But there are monsters and potentially robots, so there's potential for evil. ...we'll get back to you on that.

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