Chicago – today. Businesswoman Angela Rance has enough on her plate already with a husband in the onset of dementia, and a daughter who won’t come out of her room following a tragedy. But then she starts to hear noises in her home, and turns to her charismatic young parish priest for help…
The latest Fox project to mine the vaults of classic film properties – after last season’s short-lived Omen sequel Damien, and the current TV version of Lethal Weapon – doesn’t try to remake the 1973 movie, even if director Rupert Wyatt borrows some of its visual iconography for this pilot episode. The series is inspired by William Peter Blatty’s original book rather than the movie, and is a sequel inasmuch as elements of that first story are referenced partway through during some online investigation by Father Tomas. Some of the story points are deliberately recognisable, but by the end of this first hour, and particularly when the core of Jeremy Slater’s expansion of the idea is revealed in the “this season” throwforward, it’s clear that the show is going to take things in a different direction.
There’s a mounting sense of dread through the episode, particularly once Ben Daniels’ Father Marcus is introduced and the link between him and Father Tomas is established, and there are a few genuinely frightening moments. The flashbacks to Father Tomas’ time in Haiti, and the exorcism he’s performing there, are visceral, but it’s the final shot that may well send a shiver down your spine.
Alfonso Herrera and Daniels are both entirely credible – as they need to be for this to have any shot at success – and Geena Davis does a good job with what, at least at this point, is a little clichéd material. Brianne Howey and Hannah Kasulka are good casting as her two teenage daughters, one of whom gets to show a very different side before the episode is out (and there’s an argument that the series is showing its hand early… equally, there’s not a lot of point making The Exorcist unless you’re going to show Satanic possession from the off).
Even in this first hour, there’s plenty of room for a discussion of faith and the many different ways in which people feel called to or by God – from the parishioner who plagues Father Tomas for absolution to the two very different priests at the heart of the show. There’s a lot of potential here, although equally, I think it’s a show with a limited lifespan, and I wonder if this is going to turn out to be like American Horror Story and focus on a different cast each season.
Verdict: A strong start but whether it will become compelling TV is yet to be seen. 8/10