Friday, September 23, 2016

New Fall TV - FOX's Exorcist is a Don't Miss Compelling Watch

TV show based on William Blatty's 1971 novel about a priest who performs exorcisms on demonic spirits. Written and created by television newcomer Jeremy Slater, whose writing credits include films such as the Lazarus Effect, Fantastic 4 and Pet.

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 Bennet (Kurt Egyiawan, “Beasts of No Nation”).

Most of us are familiar with the original Exorcist movie starring Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn. Truth be told, when released on December 26th 1973 it scared the pants off of the entire movie watching population. People were sick, exiting the theater in hysterics, being offended and running for church as soon as possible. There have been very few movies having a such a hard impact since then. The Exorcist became the horror standard for creepiness and just plain portrayal of evil. Trying to replicate the phenom has been basically impossible.
Knowing all of this, when FOX announced The Exorcist adaptation in its 2016 Fall lineup I was giddy and oddly reserved. Being completely honest, given the current technology and entertainment climate this show was going to either be amazingly good or horribly bad. So sitting down this evening to watch it live was a tough choice. I also chose to participate in the twitter feed while watching which is a first for me. 

So the good news is this, I was scared, I jumped, and I got creeped out. So were the other viewers watching the show and live tweeting. The pilot, Chapter One: And Let My Cry Come Unto Thee, engaged and hooked me in from the moment the dogs arrived and the inhuman wailing began. There are several reasons for this, so lets talk about why The Exorcist pilot worked.

The writing, and this is so very important in any show, particularly a horror drama. If the dialog and or the scenes are not delicate and yet strong the genre comes off as hokey and unbelievable. The scare has to be rooted in a tangible fear for it to resonate. While most of the audience will be on the fence as to whether they believe in the demonic and or have religious ties makes this a particularly tough job for this show. You do not want to alienate anyone, however you want be able to deliver a truth when needed. Again, very well planned and executed by the writers room, bravo!

Where you have excellent writing you need a superior cast to deliver the story. The casting is magnificent, the two lead actors, Alfonso Herrera and Ben Daniels are seasoned enough actors to be able to portray the characters with a depth they need. Making them believable and giving the audience empathy for them. These two actors are also not well known enough for the audience to have their resumes prevalent in their mind when watching. The only people in the cast easily recognizable are Geena Davis and Alan Ruck, both veteran film actors who add credibility to the show.

Lastly, some (namely uneducated television executives) will want to push the technology side of genre over the top. Kill them with the impossible! This can be very easily done and ruin a movie or show. I still have a little bitterness for the use of technology in the recent movie The Conjuring 2. An otherwise awesome movie, the use of technology to create the crooked man as a form the demon liked to take to terrorize the family completely threw me out of the experience. This is why in these cases, less is more. In tonight’s The Exorcist pilot I think the production staff and director made the best choice of using technology on a limited basis. Kinda like the demon, only showing itself when absolutely necessary. Good job!

Challenges ahead for the show will be numerous. Tonight they have set the bar pretty high. We will see if they can maintain the critical balance of creepiness, scare and want. You have a tough audience and only time will tell how it shakes out. My advice, center your focus on the writing, the core of good against evil and showing the hope and faith in humanity. 

The Exorcist can be seen on Friday’s 8pm CST on FOX, check your local listings. The Exorcist is being put to the three episode test, will it be compelled to stand up in the end or be defeated by lack of faith?

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