In the US: Fridays, Cinemax. Starts June 3
In the UK: Tuesdays, 10pm, Fox UK. Starts June 7
The Exorcist was justifiably proclaimed as one of the best movies of the 70s and perhaps the scariest movie of all time. Despite being about demonic possession of a young girl, its horror comes from the crisis of faith of a young priest who at first tries to explain the possession rationally, before the slow accumulation of facts and his partnership with an older, self-assured priest (Max Von Sydow) on an exorcism force him to acknowledge that the Devil – and God – exists.
This year, we’re facing not one but two TV versions of The Exorcist, both of them airing on a Fox of one kind or another. The first, airing on Fox in the US, is explicitly a remake of the movie:
The second, airing on Cinemax in the US but Fox UK in the UK, is Outcast. Although based on Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead)’s comic of the same name, it’s basically a remake of The Exorcist, with a young man (Patrick Fugit) gradually coming to accept the truth of demonic possession thanks to the sights he beholds while working with an older priest on an exorcism of a child.
Surprisingly, of the two shows, Outcast looks like it’s by far the better remake. Even more surprisingly, Outcast is also a partial remake of 2008 ITV Buffy knock-off shitfest Demons. Because who should be playing the older American demon-hunter of the piece? Why it’s none other than Life on Mars‘ Philip Glenister again.
Here’s a trailer.
Outcast, based on the Skybound/Image comic title by creator Robert Kirkman and artist Paul Azaceta, follows Kyle Barnes, a young man who has been plagued by demonic possession all his life. Now, with the help of the Reverend Anderson, a preacher with personal demons of his own, Kyle embarks on a journey to find answers and regain the normal life he lost. But what Kyle discovers could change his fate — and the fate of the world — forever.
Patrick Fugit (Gone Girl) stars as Barnes, a man searching for answers, and for redemption, who sequesters himself from those he loves for fear of causing greater hurt. Philip Glenister (Life on Mars) stars as Reverend Anderson, a West Virginia evangelist who believes he is a soldier in God’s holy war against the forces of evil on Earth. An inveterate drinker and gambler, he doesn’t believe God intends people to sweat the small stuff. Gabriel Bateman (Stalker) stars as Joshua Austin, an eight-year-old who lives across town from Kyle. To his family’s dismay, he appears to be in the clutches of demonic possession, but there’s something very different about this possession and its connection to Kyle Barnes.
Is it any good?
It’s derivative bobbins, obviously, but for what it is, it’s very well done.
The show’s biggest problem is that it relies too much on shocks achieved by violence, particularly violence against children. While it’s the not standard ‘quiet, quiet, bang’ of modern cinema – indeed, it echoes The Exorcist in many ways, including the general tone, the possession itself and even a few shot-compositions – it’s a failing of the show that offers decreasing returns, particularly since the show almost advertises the fact that more is coming to excuse it and not make it too much of a shock.
Its other problem is the lead character. To be fair, he’s traumatised after having seen not just his mother but his wife possessed by demons. Quite why he hasn’t put two and two together on this particular coincidence isn’t clear, but the man either should have checked himself into the loonie bin a while back or set himself up in the priesthood at the first opportunity.
Indeed, there aren’t that many appealing characters in the entire piece, beyond Fugit’s sparky sister (Wrenn Schmidt), who spends most of the first episode trying to convince him to be sociable and have a life. Fingers crossed, she might be able to get something happening there.
But the show’s strengths are that is often surprisingly scary, something helped by the always excellent Atticus Ross (Touching Evil (US))’s score. It’s also often thoughtful and more concerned with character than scoring cheap shocks. Despite its frequent knocking off of The Exorcist, the idea of man being chased by demons who possess those who around him to get to him is pretty novel. Even Glenister’s American accent is good, which is a marked change from his Demons work.
Assuming you want to watch an Exorcist TV series, I’d recommend this as by far the better option facing you this year.