TWIST MY HEAD AND MAKE ME FEEL NO PAIN
At 8:55 p.m. on the evening of Friday, September 23rd, 2016, there was one thing I wondered… would I be rushing eagerly to my keyboard to write about this new television series or would I simply have a drink and turn on Netflix. Here I am typing so maybe that is enough of a review but just like the show itself, there is a whole lot more happening here than the obvious.
The clock struck 9 p.m. and now it was time to check out FOX’s new incarnation of William Peter Blatty’s classic The Exorcist. The months leading up to this premiere, I deliberately kept from reading any updates including spoilers, casting, a sneak preview at Horrorhound Weekend, anything, as I wanted to go into this completely fresh. Would FOX, the producers, the writers, the ensemble, actually tread on the holy sacred ground of the 1973 horror standard-bearer? The opening title dropped right into your face following a quick tease of a man looking up into a shantytown-style apartment window with a child screaming. Whenever a show presents itself, be it film or television, that deals with religion and spirituality then I personally feel it is always a gamble. There is no easy-going fun to be had like when you watch Scream Queens, there is no in-your-face mayhem and deeply-knit character drama like The Walking Dead, no it is always an appeal to the viewer to reflect on their own values and the power of faith. Is it our own inner demons that our souls battle or is there truly an evil presence cycling itself in our universe, tempting us to succumb to its strength so it can feed on our weaknesses?
Is it our own inner demons that our souls battle or is there truly an evil presence cycling itself in our universe, tempting us to succumb to its strength so it can feed on our weaknesses?
Let’s begin. This new series quickly establishes the lead character in Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera, Sense8); local Chicago suburb Priest who immediately appeals because instead of being the archetype of righteousness, he is revealed to be very relaxed in his methods and one of the people – and most of all a regular man who has his own life and struggles. During his sermon, the Rance Family – Mom: Angela, Dad: Henry and Daughter: Casey (Hannah Kasulka, The Fosters and Filthy Preppy Teen$) – listen in. Each glimpse revealing tiny nuances into their characters. Father Tomas has a unique ability to perceive visions, and in this case, he is brought into the world of Father Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels, Flesh and Bone and House of Cards). Father Marcus is involved in his own battle against a demon that has possessed a young boy, Gabriel, down in Mexico City. Whether it is the past, or present, we do not yet know. As I describe these characters, have you noticed yet that I have not mentioned the names Merrin, Karras, or MacNeil? I was wondering too because I didn’t know where this series was fitting – was it entirely new, was it in the same movie universe as the original series, or was it a remake?
Through Father Marcus and his case with Gabriel, we are treated to a first glance at what 2016 exorcisms look like and it was definitely up there on the creepy scale. Back in Chicago, Angela (played by the lovely Geena Davis, Beetlejuice and The Fly ) is beginning to suspect that something is terribly wrong in her house as she hears noises, voices, and her other daughter Kat (Brianne Howey) is a recluse inside her bedroom. The most humane part of the family that brought me in was the story of the Father, Henry (Alan Ruck, Spin City and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), a man that was successful but has gone through some sort of accident that has now damaged his memory leaving him with a permanent handicap that has shaken the foundation of the Family. Now we begin to see how the Daughters are affected and Angela herself; the stability of the successful and prosperous life she lived suddenly struck down and taken away. It’s enough for one to lose faith wouldn’t you say? Those familiar with the themes of the original would instantly begin to suspect that this Family will be a target for that very reason.
The pace was gradual but aside from playing the horror field smoothly, the show had not yet reeled me into its world by the half hour. Now here’s where it gets interesting and I am going to give show creator Jeremy Slater full credit as Father Tomas looks up previous exorcisms…and….wait for it….a news article acknowledging an exorcism in Georgetown, Washington with the name Chris MacNeil hidden in there. I might have missed the name Regan because I suddenly got so enthralled that this was indeed a sequel spin-off series! As much as I would love Ellen Burstyn or Linda Blair to reprise their roles down the road, I won’t get ahead of myself but rather just enjoy the fact that this was not a remake attempt.
From the Forces of Evil
Father Tomas visits Father Marcus in a retreat institute after seeing a vision of the resolve with Gabriel that saw the possessing demon twist the boy’s head around snapping his neck (a nice realistic “spin” on the famous scene from the original). Turns out that his visions are not a special ability but all a plan from the forces of evil that are preying on Father Tomas. The climactic moment saw Tomas telling Angela he believes her in that there is a demon present and it is his calling from God to help her family. Rumbles come from above and so he and Angela make their way upstairs when the attic ladder drops. Within that instant, with less than ten minutes to go, the tone took a turn and we were now submersed in an atmospherically intense situation. The intensity fueled by Tomas climbing into the attic where you know something evil awaits and the anticipatory reveal that Kat is possessed no doubt kept many viewers in an upright position.
I absolutely love when a show dealing with a controversial subject matter while playing for straight horror not only takes it time building the atmosphere and the plotlines, but then smacks you straight in the face with a swerve that I did not see coming.
It was not Kat at all but the seemingly free and clear Casey that is possessed! WHOA! What!? I am sorry for the spoiler but it is absolutely necessary to convey to you just how epic this was. The evil Casey/demon also plays tricks because she reverts back to normal form just as Angela enters the attic thus making it seem to her Mother that there is no danger but Father Tomas knows otherwise. The show ends with Father Tomas leaving and looking up at the house window where Casey watches from the window. Then it happened….the undeniable, distinct theme that first haunted theatres across North America in 1973. Chills struck me and with Father Tomas walking away knowing of the danger that awaits him, and Father Marcus suiting up and leaving the retreat to seemingly come and help Tomas, this show left such resonance with me (and tons of other viewers from all the tweets I read) that I will be tuning in next week and 100% sold on the potential.
In summation, in a day where television is all about hit-and-miss, and we see shows that are written well like “Bates Motel” and compare to potential horror hitters like last year’s “Damien” (which I personally didn’t get hooked on despite tremendous performances by Barbara Hershey and Scott Wilson), then it could not please me more that I was on the fence for 35 minutes, then drawn in with a classy and respectful nod to the original, and by the end of 60 minutes, sitting on the edge of my seat. That is television folks…and that is true horror.