Demonic possession has been an inspirational topic for creators over the years, so it is the plot of many a book, movie and tv series. One of the most famous films featuring a demonic entity festering inside a victim is the 1973 classic horror movie ‘’The Exorcist”, based on a novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty.
This movie set off a rip-tide of both positive and negative reactions across viewers and protests by religious zealots that claimed the film ‘’glorified Satan”. It affected viewers to the point that movie theatres had to call paramedics upon initial release as the movie induced fainting and hysteria from the viewers. Why did this movie have such a dramatic effect on people? In my opinion, it’s because its theme hit close to home – demons are something religiously inclined people believe in, especially when there are many reports of supposedly real encounters. What else strikes more fear into the hearts of viewers than a malicious, possibly real entity dwelling in the world we live in? It’s even more frightening to think about when Blatty himself, the mastermind behind ‘’The Exorcist” franchise found inspiration for his original novel from a real-life exorcism case.
‘’The Exorcist” TV series was originally planned and publicized as a reboot of the 1973 movie, but the idea was reworked into a series instead. Though set in the same, demon-ridden universe – it is not simply a televised rendition of the original film, but a sequel that picks off several years after the exorcism of Regan MacNeil. There are a few subtle nods to the original movie, however. Many fans of the 1973 ‘’The Exorcist” would recognise small quirks like the newspaper clipping seen in one episode recounting the events from the first film, or the music (Tubular Bells) that is played at the end of episode one – the same music that is played in the original.
Of course, many of the scares throughout the episodes are reminiscent of those in the original movie. We get our fair share of limbs turning at weird, unnatural angles, human bodies rotting alive like the soul that the demon has latched onto, levitation, victims being thrown around the room by an invisible force. We even get the odd case of projectile vomiting – which is less pea soup and more downright vile on screen. But the difference is that in this 2016 version, the gross factor is amped even more – it looks overly realistic, disturbing. Anyone watching it could come down with a case of emetophobia.
Perhaps this all boils down to the fact that a demon-centric plotline isn’t something new to the producer – Jeremey Slater. Slater is known for his 2015 thriller ‘’The Lazarus Effect”, which did receive generally negative reviews from critics’ plot-wise and scare-wise, but was praised for its special effects. Much of the same could be said about ‘’The Exorcist” when it comes to its horror factor since while it does have its fair share of disturbing scenes and mild jumpscares, it doesn’t come close to something that would completely satisfy the needs of a horror junkie. Although whatever scares we do receive – they are high quality and with more than a small dose of creepy, thanks to the copious amounts of body horror that personally makes me cringe.
Another plus of this series is that it jumps straight into the action rather than teasing people for a few episodes with the promise of picking up the plot and dragging on the suspense via strange noises and the demon’s hissing in the walls like the Basilisk in The Chamber of Secrets (though we get some of that too). In fact, we pretty much get what it says on the tin in the pilot episode with the first attempts of an exorcism. I would say a major part of what makes this series so intriguing is the well-balanced plot, that is, good storytelling. The plot plays itself out steadily, which builds suspense, instead of flying through it straight to the action and gore which can lead to the story imploding in on itself and becoming monotonous.
The characters are what makes for compelling storytelling. They receive backstories and become more fleshed out as the story progresses. Father Thomas Ortega, who is played by Alfonso Herrera, known for his work in Mexican telenovelas and as Hernando in Netflix’s ‘’Sense8”, is an affable young priest who cares deeply for the people of his parish. This character has many layers of depth and emotion that are explored with each episode as he tries ridding of a demon who has possessed a young girl. Father Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels), a skilled exorcist, someone that wouldn’t necessarily be labelled as a stereotypical priest judging from his character, is reluctant to help Father Thomas after an exorcism leads to a death of a young boy. However, these two priests find themselves working together – fighting demons of a physical and a spiritual sense.
As Father Thomas says in the first episode: ‘’Demons are metaphors”; I believe that even though it is proven that demons are very real in that universe, this statement still has some truth to it. The characters, like many of us, have their own personal traumas, feelings, regrets – demons of a metaphorical kind. These ‘demons’ are more difficult to battle than the physical counterparts as they come from within, they are a person’s weakness and can break them as we see happen to the characters in this show. Only when the characters overcome their inner demons – can they save another from the clutches of an entity.
What makes this show so appealing is that it raises many questions, follows the original ‘’The Exorcist” franchise’s tradition with its shocking imagery and by leaving viewers questioning: Are demons real? And which ones are we fighting within ourselves?