Fox’s Promising ‘The Exorcist’: The Devil Is in the Details

Fox’s Promising ‘The Exorcist’: The Devil Is in the Details September 22, 2016


Did the Devil make Fox reboot “The Exorcist”? Nope — and he probably doesn’t like the result.

Everything old is new again these days on TV and in movies, as studios look into their archives for properties with recognizable titles that can be dusted off, retooled and relaunched, in an attempt to break through the ever-growing mass of available programming. And if those properties involve the always-popular theme of demons, angels and God, all the better.

Last year, A&E tried to resurrect “The Omen” franchise with “Damien,” which was better than I expected but didn’t last into a second season.

This year, it’s Fox, with “The Exorcist,” premiering Friday, Sept. 23, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

It’s based on the 1971 novel by Catholic writer William Peter Blatty, which became an excellent, terrifying — and pro-Catholic — movie in 1973.

Fox’s series version moves the demonic-possession story to modern-day Chicago — where the show is filmed — but it retains the notion of a younger priest who harbors doubts paired with an older priest and exorcist who has spent decades battling the forces of darkness.

Executive producer Jeremy Slater also wrote the pilot, which is directed by fellow executive producer Rupert Wyatt.

Alfonso Herrera stars as young Father Tomas, whose indiscretion with an adult female parishioner has seen him exiled to a struggling parish. A nominally Catholic parishioner, Angela Rance (Geena Davis), comes to him, fearing that a demon has infested her home.

She has two daughters — one apparently cheerful, the other troubled — and a husband (Alan Ruck) suffering from dementia.

Meanwhile, another priest, Father Marcus (Ben Daniels), is in Mexico City, in the throes of a long, fierce fight to free a possessed boy. When Tomas starts having visions of Marcus — who has asked God for a sign — it seems that a plan has been set in motion for the two to meet.

The pilot is atmospheric, sufficiently suspenseful, respectful of faith and mostly correct. I watched it with a very faithful co-worker, senior producer Tony Sands, at Catholic production company Family Theater Productions, and with Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C.  — who has studied filmmaking and provided some priest referrals to the producers of “The Exorcist” — and neither had serious issues.

Father Kuna even recommends watching well-done projects dealing with exorcism, including “The Exorcist,” saying:

You can even be skeptical. Working with youth groups, if they see presentations on this, even the most skeptical students come to believe that evil is real. But it doesn’t exist for its own sake. It’s a rejection of the love of God, a turning-away from the love of God.

It gives a greater belief in Jesus Christ, who was sent to chase out evil. They should watch every exorcism movie that’s based on a real story. You can’t get enough of it, to have a greater belief in Christ and that supernatural things are real. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time.

I sat down with Slater — who seemed knowledgeable and sincere about getting it right — at the summer edition of the TV Critics Association Press Tour in Beverly Hills last month.

He cautions about assuming that it’s God who has brought Tomas and Marcus together.

There’s something in Tomas that I’ve seen a little bit in my own spiritual journey and talking to different people: that sense of belief in God, but always having that doubt, always just wanting that confirmation, of wanting that holy golden light to shine down and having someone tell him you’re doing the right thing, you haven’t made a mistake, you were doing the right thing with your life. That’s what, on a central level, most of us want.

He has doubt about his place in the world, and whether he is where he’s supposed to be. When he’s thrust into this event through very mysterious circumstances, he takes that as confirmation from God, this is finally the voice coming from the burning bush telling me, “Yes, my son, you are where you’re supposed to be. You are doing my work.”

The question going forward is, was that voice coming from God or was it coming from the other side? Is he an operative for the good guys or is he being manipulated from the bad guys? That’s the question we’re going to be exploring as the season goes on.

Apparently, preparing for and shooting the show has had an effect on the folks involved in “The Exorcist.” Said Slater:

The more you dig into those real-life possession stories, and you relive the accounts of the people who lived through it … Either everyone is telling the same story and telling it flawlessly, or something inexplicable actually happened. Even the skeptics on our cast and crew [were affected], the more they sat down with these priests, the more they did their homework and saw the pictures and read the case files of these possessions.

Slater and his team also appear to take seriously their portrayal of the Church’s role as the last real bulwark against evil:

It was important to us to not villainize the Church and to approach it from an angle of, this is the last line of defense. These are the only people out there who are still fighting the good fight in this secret war that’s going.

At the same time, we’re acknowledging the complexities of what is a case of demonic possession look like in 2016? What would a sanctioned church exorcism look like in this day and age, and what are the reasons for the church refusing to sanction an exorcism like that or you would agree with them and you would say, “That’s probably the right call, I would do the same thing if I were in those shoes.”

When Satan and his minions threaten to sweep across the face of the Earth, people usually wind up turning to the Catholic Church — as happened recently in aggressively Protestant/secular Scotland after strange poltergeist happenings.

After all, who ya gonna call?

Said Slater:

You go to the pros.

The original film of “The Exorcist” wound up being a great ad for the Church. Observed Slater:

The original film came out and it was certainly controversial, but attendance levels at Catholic churches skyrocketed after that film came out because it made people believe, it made people say, “Wow, these forces are really out there. I better be on the right side here, I better side with the people who know what’s going on.”

Amen to that.

Image: Courtesy Fox

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