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TV Review: The Exorcist (Season 1, Episode 1)

EPISODE: CHAPTER ONE: AND LET MY CRY COME UNTO THEE

THE DISH: After an injurious car crash has left teenage Katherine Rance (Brianne Howey) acting erratically, her parents Angela (Geena Davis) and Henry (Alan Ruck) solicit the aide of two priests to investigate a possible demonic presence in their Chicago home: an idealistic youngster in Father Ortega (Alfonso Herrera), and a roguish outcast in Father Keane (Ben Daniels). THE EXORCIST will come!

WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS BELOW!

THE DICE-UP: We can't think of a loftier or more thankless task than aptly appropriating perhaps the greatest horror film ever assembled - THE EXORCIST - into not just an entertaining TV series, but one that convincingly delivers on the promise of its hall of fame namesake. But if fortune indeed favors the bold, this very decision by Fox could very well - like other small-screen adaptations of horror classics (HANNIBAL, BATES MOTEL, etc.) - payoff quite handsomely for the studio over time. It could just as easily sully the network's reputation as well. After-all, what a winless proposition it is to redo a property that was nominated for Best Picture of 1973 (Damn you THE STING!) Damned if you do, damned if you don't it would seem...successful iterations of the show will inevitably fall short of the classic Friedkin film, and if grossly subpar, or even too far veered away from the William Peter Blatty source novel, rabid fans are bound to take the show to task even farther for being little more than an ersatz update meant only to make more money.

A tall hill to climb then, it would seem, for THE EXORCIST right from the base. As the inaugural episode just concluded, we'll do our damndest below to offer up as spoiler-free a review as possible. The overriding takeaway though: well drawn humanity that so far lacks the scarifying iconography of the movie!

The show opens at night, with a fedora-decked priest ambling down a shadowy corridor toward an urban high-rise. From here on out, this is our demonically charged charnel house. The priest, as we'll come to know, is named Father Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels), a clerical vagabond of sorts, a loner, an outcast of the church who abides by his own moral code. Bur more on him later. Inside the apartment, we meet Angela and Henry Rance (Geena Davis and Alan Ruck), a god-fearing, churchgoing couple dealing with the physical and emotional tumult left in the wake of a lethal auto-accident that blindsided their family. Henry is a shell of himself now, essentially a vegetable, leaving to Angela the hefty task of consoling their two teenage daughters. Katherine (Brianne Howey) apparently lost a close friend in a the crash, and her chipper sister Casey (Hannah Kasulka) is intent on cheering her up. Thing is, Angela senses something afoul with Kat, something sinister that extends beyond mere depression or PTSD. She senses something supernatural in their home. Something evil.

Attending church shortly after, Angela opens up to young, idealistic and progressive Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera, a dead ringer for a young Banderas). He earns her trust, saying she can confide in him with anything, and soon the young priest makes a house-call to the Rance abode to examine Kat for himself. But before that happens, we see Ortrga tormented by a skein of grisly nightmares, in which the other priest, Marcus Keane, is apparently performing an exorcism of a little boy in a foreign country. We, like Ortega, aren't sure what to make of them. We also learn that Ortega is a father of a young boy, sharing joint custody with his ex-lover. A great scene depicting this, and the inanity of everyday struggles Ortega faces is among the highest plaudits of this first episode. The show does a good job of setting up the humanity, drawing well shaded characters - problematic people whose daily strife is instantly recognizable. This is sure to carry a ton of freight moving forward, ultimately paying off when, hopefully, the faithful fright hits. What's more, the casting of Davis and Ruck - two instantly identifiable actors from the 80s we all grew up watching - are brilliant choices, the kind sure to elicit an intrinsic sympathy that will go a long way in genuinely caring for these people and their plight.

As for the plot progression, Ortega soon enlists the help of Father Keane. After-all, it was Keane who appears in Ortega's recurring nightmares. When he finally does track down the righteous gypsy-priest, we learn that that Ortega's ghastly nightmares actually happened, that they were not mere conjuring of the mind. Keane corroborates, claiming he really did exorcise a demonic presence out of a little boy in Mexico City a year prior. We get an attempt at requisite terror - a bed-ridden boy with black eyes and jagged teeth, spuming and speaking in tongues, but as expected, the imagery far pales in comparison to the work Dick Smith put on Linda Blair in '73. So how is this related to Ortega? Why is it he who is experience these nightmares? All answers to come in due time, no doubt, but for now, Keane chalks it up to unspeakable forces that have chosen Ortega for malefic manipulation. Keane exhorts Ortega to stay away from him, the subject as a whole, and by proxy, the entire Rance family. But as a man of integrity, one avowed to keeping his promise to himself, the lord and those who confide in him, Ortega cannot. It becomes clear by the end of the pilot episode - even among a wicked twist worth tuning in for - that the two at-odds clergymen (Keane and Ortega) will clash, butt heads, get on each other's nerves, but ultimately work together toward ridding Angela and her potentially possessed young daughters of pure evil.

All in all, a solid start for THE EXORCIST in its first frame, if for no other reason than deftly drawing out the kind of humanity that continues to make the movie so damn compelling. Remember, very little horror happens in the first 45-60 minutes of the film, and wisely so, series creator Jeremy Slater and director Rupert Wyatt (DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES) stay in lockstep with that very template. I did take a bit of umbrage with a badly rendered CGI sequence involving a crow - loud, ugly, unbecoming - but for the most part, the scant horror serves as an effectively portentous appetizer. How gnarly it well get for a mainstream network (crucifix masturbation seems unthinkable) remains to be seen, but hopefully the studio brass who green-lighted the project knows well and good that in order to retain fans of the original while garnering new eyes - the viler and more vicious - the better for all. Beyond that, the four main principal adult actors - Davis, Ruck, Herrera and Daniels - are sure to imbue their characters with enough human complexity to keep even the lighter moments aglow. We're just getting started, but so far, THE EXORCIST just might work!

Extra Tidbit: The Exorcist airs Friday nights at 9:00 PM on Fox.
Source: AITH

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