Hit or Sh**: FOX’s THE EXORCIST
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
It’s a dark and cold night. Ravens caw, and packs of dogs howl at the full moon cresting the peak. Fox Manor is a chilling silhouette against the pallid backdrop; a grim monolith before a pale white canvas. Deep within its dark recesses, a coven of network executives gather around a dimly lit fireplace.
“There is unrest amongst the masses,” reports one anxiously. “They demand more. More nostalgia. More memories of forgotten classics, produced at a fraction of the cost.”
“It simply isn’t possible,” answers another. “The Reviv-ification Engine has been working overtime!”
A hush falls over the room as a gnarled figure wheels himself to the fore.
“Science fiction. Action. The public does not fear these genres. What they need is horror. Aged, classic horror. A name that they are familiar with, but content that is utterly alien to them. Only once we do this will the people learn respect.”
Murmurs from the underlings fill the air with contention. Finally, one of their black-robed number speaks up.
“What do you suggest?”
“Bring back… THE EXORCIST.”
Here! We! Go! Again!
FOXs latest retro reboot is the farthest reaching yet, as the original EXORCIST is reaching it’s 50th anniversary soon. While some would decry the very idea of digging the film up for TV as heresy, I admire the choice. I mean, for the love of God, please stop rebooting old content, but if you’re going to, THE EXORCIST is a fairly agreeable source. The simple premise, cheap locations, and flexible canon all lend themselves to a very do-able series. But as demonstrated all too perfectly here, some material just isn’t suited for the jump to the small screen.
In this incarnation of THE EXORCIST, the plot of the novel is eschewed for an original script, albeit one that manages to closely emulate much of the film within its pilot. Angela Rance (Geena Davis, for some reason), a Chicagoite with a lot on her plate, calls upon the help of incredulous preacher Father Tomas (Alfonso Herrera) to rid her home of a suspected malefic presence. In Mexico, veteran priest Marcus (Ben Daniels), performs an exorcism of his own, this time on a very real demon. Tomas becomes privy to this through several convenient nightmares, and seeks Marcus out for help with his own haunting.
And also for a hand with the rats in the attic
It’s a solid, if not cliched, opening chapter on paper. The problem is that THE EXORCIST is supposed to be scary, and this pilot was anything but. Frazzled Angela tells Tomas of all the terrifying phenomena in her house, but none of this is ever actually shown onscreen. We do see the full power of demonic possession with Marcus, but the victim is a nameless child that the audience is unable to connect with. By the time Tomas is actually confronted by Angela’s demon at the end of the episode, the cat is already out of the bag.
It doesn’t help that all the “scares” in between are tame, cable-core fare. Maybe I’ve become jaded from watching too much horror, but the tired “oops, I was standing right over your shoulder” gag only makes me yawn. A crow crashing through a window and the signature neck twist are the highlights of the pilot, but the former is so cheaply produced that it’s hard not to laugh, and the latter is such a mediocre reimagining of one of horror’s most iconic scenes that it hurts to watch.
And this brings me to the final flaw with THE EXORCIST. When your source material is as gnarly as it is here, you really have to go above and beyond with what you’re willing to show in the remake if you’re going to impress anybody. Even SCARY MOVIE 2 got this basic rule right when they lampooned the 1973 film. But TV’s THE EXORCIST is too afraid to do what it must to up the ante. To demonstrate, here’s the demon child from the original:
And here’s the one from the pilot:
It boggles the mind that anyone could look at this and think it holds a candle to the OG. The mistake here wasn’t trying to bring back THE EXORCIST. The mistake was trying to bring back THE EXORCIST on cable. I could go on about the eye-rolling dialogue or the forced tie-ins to the first film, but like this show, there’s really no point to it. This is a horror series minus the horror. And that is something that actually makes me want to puke.
THE EXORCIST airs on Fridays on FOX