Review: The Exorcist 1×1 (US: Fox; UK: Syfy)

Much, much better than the trailer

In the US: Fridays, 9/8c, Fox
In the UK: Wednesdays, 9pm, Syfy. Starts October 19

Over the past couple of years, it’s become very apparent there’s a big difference between two groups: people who movies and TV shows, and the people who make the trailers for them. Last year, of course, we had the horror that was the Supergirl trailer, which made us think we were getting that spoof Black Widow solo movie from Saturday Night Live. Except the pilot turned out to be a lot of jolly fun instead. 

Then, this summer, we had Suicide Squad. Now, by all accounts, that was never going to be a great movie, but such was Warner Bros’s concern that it was going to tank at the box office, when a trailer for the movie got people all excited for it, the company actually got the trailer makers to edit the final movie. The result? A nonsensical disaster. 

Don’t trust trailers, seems to be the lesson.

Now, one of the big US TV trends of late has been the remaking of old horror movies, with A&E’s terrible sequel to The OmenDamien, already having crashed and burned this year. So I guess it’s no surprise that Fox would eventually get round to a remake of perhaps the most famous of them all – the one Mark Kermode himself reckons is also the best movie of all time – The Exorcist.

“Of course, it’s Fox,” we all thought. “It’s bound to be rubbish.” And then we saw the trailer, which basically just confirmed our worst fears: the remakers didn’t understand the source and were just going to do a generic horror show.

Well, guess what – the trailer lied. Again. The Exorcist not only understands what made the original work, it’s genuinely good and even scary… so far. Here’s the misleading trailer – more after the jump.

Widely regarded as the greatest horror movie ever made, “The Exorcist” broke box office records and terrified audiences around the world. Now, more than four decades after the Academy Award-nominated film, THE EXORCIST returns as a TV series.

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. Deep in the slums of Mexico City, another priest has found himself locked in a life-and-death struggle with evil. FATHER MARCUS KEANE (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 mission – and he constantly butts heads with his adversary within the church, FATHER BENNETT (Kurt Egyiawan, “Beasts of No Nation”).

Caught in the middle of the two priests is the RANCE family, who are members of Tomas’ parish. On the surface, they’re a normal, American family, but all is not as it seems in this household. The patriarch, HENRY RANCE (Alan Ruck, “Spin City,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”), is recovering from a traumatic injury. 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”) 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 Rances’ only hope against an evil force that has been mobilizing for centuries.

THE EXORCIST is from Morgan Creek Productions in association with 20th Century Fox Television. The series was created by Jeremy Slater (“Fantastic Four”). The series is executive-produced by Slater, Emmy Award nominee Rolin Jones (“Friday Night Lights,” “Weeds”), Rupert Wyatt, Roy Lee (“Hidden,” “Run All Night”) James Robinson (“Dream House”), David Robinson (“Dream House,” “The Good Shepherd”) and Barbara Wall (“Boss”). Wyatt also served as director on the pilot. “Like” THE EXORCIST on Facebook at Follow the series on Twitter @TheExorcistFOX and join the discussion using #TheExorcist. See photos and videos on Instagram by following @TheExorcistFOX.

Is it any good?
Like The Exorcist 3, it has moments when it gives in to the need to have an audience-pleasing exorcism, but the rest of the time, like the original, it’s actually a smart, beautifully directed study of the nature of faith (or lack thereof) in the presence of the supernatural.

Both a continuation (the pilot features a newspaper article about the events of the original movie) and a thematic remake of the movie, it sees a young, intelligent priest (Alfonso Herrera) who doesn’t believe in the literal truth of demons starting to experience things he can’t explain using science. These include dreams of an exorcism performed by another priest (Ben Daniels), as well as impossible knowledge passed to him by one of his parishioners. 

Most of this is done very thoughtfully and slowly. Director Rupert Wyatt sets a tone that will hopefully continue for the rest of the season by emulating in exacting detail the style of William Friedkin, creating a gritty everyday Chicago that nevertheless has a disconcerting quality, with something strange potentially behind every doorway. The only real exception to that is towards the end where Wyatt starts channelling the likes of The Ring for something a whole lot weirder and scarier that I’d never actually seen before in a TV show.

However, from time to time, we get the inevitable exorcism, at which point things start to get a bit sillier. To be fair, that’s a problem with the movies as well and the exorcisms don’t get as silly as they do in Outcast, but it does take you away from the patient build-up of tension that the script and direction have worked so hard at. 

Herrera’s an interesting choice for the central character, continuing its Rosewood drift into having non-white protagonists. Daniels isn’t Max Von Sydow but he puts in a very solid performance. Geena Davis and the rest of her family all serve the roles well, too.

So great first episode – well done, everyone.

But… at the end, I saw the trailer for the next episode/season and it looks bad – not Exorcist 2 bad but bad in the same way the trailer for the first episode did. Which is where I think we came in. 

Fingers crossed that the trailers people have screwed up again, hey?