Friday, September 30, 2016

Religion & Pop Culture Fall Season Review: The Exorcist

"You're being manipulated, my friend, by forces you don't understand." 
Father Marcus Keane to Father Tomás Ortega in The Exorcist

Confession: I have never seen the original The Exorcist. Should I? You tell me. But you'll have to make a good case. Even the trailer scares me!

I do know the plot of the film, however, and I was curious: how would one of the scariest films of all time translate to the small screen? So, I decided to brave the pilot. Although this is not a remake, the basic bones of the original The Exorcist are present in the new FOX show. A young Roman Catholic priest is about to confront something unbelievable to many in the Western, industrialized world: demonic possession. An old, battle-weary priest - who has waged a (largely unsuccessful) war against the demonic for many years - will (probably) be providing much-needed reinforcements. 

If you know anything about the original film or novel, you'll be able to predict much of the pilot. There are a few interesting twists (including who is actually in need of an exorcism) and I thought the overall tone of the show was appropriately menacing. And the cast is solid. I always like seeing Geena Davis and Alfonso Herrera, who at first seemed WAY too handsome to portray the intrepid Fr. Tomás, is very good!. 

Of course there is the Catholic-ish (heavy on the "ish") stuff. Clichés abound: a (possibly?) lovelorn priest? Check. An cartoonish oppressive Catholic hierarchy that stymies the work of a few moral actors? Check. Fancy old relics that go unexplained? Check. A television show like The Exorcist has potential to raise questions about the arrogance of the industrialized world when it comes to spirituality (have we modernized ourselves to a world without God or Satan? And who is Satan/the devil anyway? a personal being? a force of evil?), the limitations of medical science (must every malady be explained through a medical diagnosis?), the relationship between the physical world and the spiritual world (what are relics and what is their power)? Instead, the viewers have to settle for a relatively mundane (although I am sure very common) situation: a priest whose sense of calling is in doubt. Does one need demonic possession to ask that question? Hopefully the writers will dig a little deeper in future episodes.

Horror enthusiasts will be disappointed to know that The Exorcist under-delivers when it comes to creepiness. On the one hand, we can blame this on network television; you can't get away with the vulgar, disturbing scenes from the film when kiddos could be watching. On the other hand, The X-FilesSupernatural, and other network shows demonstrate that it is possible to create genuinely scary moments that will make it past censors.  

Verdict? Not all that exciting. But, the very last minute of the show livened things up enough for me to give The Exorcist another try... until then, I remain a skeptic!

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