Friday, September 23, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Exorcist' - Tomas Looks Into a Possible Demonic Possession in 'Chapter One: And Let My Cry Come Unto Thee'

FOX's The Exorcist - Episode 1.01 "Chapter One: And Let My Cry Come Unto Thee"

Something is wrong in the Rance household. Angela suspects demonic possession and enlists the help of two priests: the progressive but naive, Father Tomas Ortega, and the broken holy warrior, Father Marcus Keane. Together, they will be drawn into a nightmare beyond imagining.

Series based on familiar titles and concepts have become increasingly common during the development process - especially at the broadcast networks. This week alone FOX has offered an adaptation of Lethal Weapon while CBS has done an update of MacGyver. Neither of those shows are all that great. Nostalgia and familiarity can be powerful motivational and marketing tools. It's easy to appeal to audiences because they already have an understanding of the concept. And yet, these projects can't solely be defined by nostalgia. Reverence for the past is important. But the creative teams need to have an understanding of why these projects worked in the first place. Lethal Weapon and MacGyver failed in that regard. This premiere for The Exorcist certainly has some problems systemic with the horror genre. But it's also competently made. It is based on the story of the film and the novel that spawned this world. But it's also providing its own twist on the material in the hopes of becoming an episodic series. It's hard to understand the longevity of a project like this. But this premiere has plenty of intriguing moments that more than likely will captivate viewers of the horror genre.

However, there are some very conventional scares throughout this premiere. It's an hour fueled by jump tactics. Something happens that makes the audience jump because it is so unexpected. That's essentially what the bird crashing into the window moment is. It's a way to show that this world isn't exactly as it seems. It's a pretty gruesome sight too. It's not just a quick scare that is over and done with the second it happens though. The show lingers on that moment. It shows the bird caught in the window and slowing being cut to death. It's particularly horrifying and startling. That's a good sign of the show taking a conventional moment and twisting it into its own unique thing. Of course, not everything works as effectively as that. The rest of the premiere has some pretty traditional moments of the classic exorcism visual. When Father Marcus is trying to cast out a demon from a young boy in Mexico, it's a chaotic scene where the boy speaks in a demonic voice, bones break, the body contorts in unnatural ways, and objects in the room are flying without reason. But it's also a brief moment because it ends just as quickly. The purpose of this possession was to kill this boy and scare Marcus.

As a character, Marcus is solely defined by his time performing this exorcism. It's a character-defining action. He's committed to this process no matter how long it takes. When a representative from Rome appears to see the ghastly sight of the boy, he's horrified and wants to end all of this. This world isn't accustomed to exorcisms. It's still questionable whether or not the church actually performs them. It's a mystery even to some of the high-ranking members of the church. It's clear that Marcus believes in them. He's committed to practicing exorcisms as long as demons wreck havoc on this world. But it's clear it has been a grueling process for him. He wasn't able to save this young boy. He dies as soon as he breaks free from his restraints. The demon doesn't take that opportunity to actually attack Marcus. So, something is clearly up. There are a lot of subtle teases throughout this premiere that something much bigger is happening. All of the characters will play an important role in it. But again, it's just a lot of cryptic teases that don't mean a whole lot right now. It's just clear that forces are conspiring to destroy these characters while other forces are trying to bring Father Tomas, Father Marcus and the Rance family together.

Marcus really is just a supporting character though. He's the world-wearied veteran of exorcisms. He's the one who knows how to perform the rituals. He has seen some truly twisted things in his life and has been forever changed because of it. He looks at an outline of where a cross used to be rather than an actual cross when looking for guidance from God. All of this stands in stark contrast to Father Tomas. He's questioning whether the priesthood is really for him. He doesn't actually know what he believes. He knows his scripture and wants to help people. But this was also a path made for him because of his grandmother. And now, it's unclear if he has really heard the calling from God. He's skeptical about the existence of demons in this world. He believes they are just a metaphor to help explain the horrible nature of human impulses. And yet, he does take Angela's concerns seriously. He knows that something is happening in the world around him. He just doesn't understand it yet. He's very naive. He's not equipped to handle this potentially lethal world. It's easy for a demon to attack him in the end. The only reason it stops is because Angela walks into the attic.

This premiere is obviously a very slow build. It's because of that storytelling decision that the cheep thrills and jump tactics are so prominent. The show needs to sell itself to the audience as a horror story. But it's much more interested in analyzing the psychological nature of this potential possession. Angela has no proof that something demonic is happening in her household when she first approaches Tomas. She hears things in the wall. That terrifies her. Her world is falling apart. Her husband, Henry, is a shell of his former self following an undisclosed accident while her eldest daughter, Katherine, is simply not herself after a car accident that killed her friend. There's nothing to suggest that something demonic is happening in this house until the very end of the premiere. After that final beat happens where the other daughter, Casey, attacks Tomas under a demon's control, it can't be denied any further. Tomas is meant to be here for a reason. But it is slow getting to that point. Angela is completely oblivious to what truly happened in the attic. Tomas has seen a demon firsthand now. That will change him and make him even more devoted to his vocation. But what does that mean in a world where demons exist and appear to have a sinister plan that involves him, this family and the very reluctant to help Father Marcus?

Some more thoughts:
  • "Chapter One: And Let My Cry Come Unto Thee" was written by Jeremy Slater and directed by Rupert Wyatt.
  • It's a pretty big reveal that Casey is the member of the Rance family who is actually possessed. Angela is worried about it being Katherine. And later, Tomas has a curious conversation with Henry that suggests he knows things he couldn't possibly know. That makes it clear that there are potentially many different forces working in this house. They are affecting every member of this family and not just one of them.
  • Tomas goes to see Marcus under the guise of Katherine's potential demonic possession. But he really goes because he keeps having dreams about Marcus' failed work in Mexico and needs to know if they are based on reality or not.
  • Tomas has a sister and a young nephew. He also has a lost love who he may still be communicating with. All of these are personal connections who will more than likely be manipulated at some point in this war with the demons. It wouldn't be an exorcism without a creepy kid around.
  • This premiere is quite a good showcase for Alfonso Herrera. This could be a very breakout role for him - in addition to his work on Netflix's Sense8. It's not as showy a performance as what Ben Daniels is doing. But it's pretty great too.
  • And yet, some big twist better be in the future to justify having Oscar winner Geena Davis as Angela. She brings some serious gravitas to the role. It brings legitimacy to this project behind the connection to the film and the book. But it's not a particularly big or expressive character at least in this first episode. Though that conversation between Angela and Tomas at the kitchen counter is fantastic for both of them.