The original masterpiece „The Exorcist” has became such a milestone since 1973 that it has stuck in the mind of every horror fan ever since. Thanks to the enormous amount of work during the creation and the great script it is still as fresh as it was when it premiered 43 years ago. And it is not exceptional just because of the nostalgic feeling when it is rewatched, it is a cult classic because every aspect of the movie stands the test of time individually – not to mention how hard it must have been to achieve, since the demon movie as a subgenre was deemed more of a B-film type of art.And because of all this it is truly pointless to remake it – or should I say blasphemous? -, and all the prequels and sequels have failed miserably over the decades. When I learnt that there is a series remake in talks, I was disappointed and outraged – we all have seen how bad the series Damien turned out – so I didn’t pay too much attention to it later on. Lucky me, I was not so strict with this vow, because what we have experienced during the 10 episodes, is as good as it HAS TO be.
Thankfully I haven’t checked any leaked or promotion materials – such as teaser trailers or character promos -, although I must admit that having Geena Davis (Thelma & Louise, Beetlejuice) was intriguing. After the debut all reviews praised the first episode – especially the last scenes -, claiming it is hopeful and surprising. So I started my journey with the Rance family, and I must confess that I could barely wait for the new episodes – I was even more impatient than during season 6 of AHS.
In the pilot we get to know the members of the family and Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera), who is the so called star priest of St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Chicago. He is innovative and talented, close to the people and has achieved a great appreciation because of his work towards helping the poor. His goal is to be the candidate for the very first Mexican pope – his late grandma envisioned this and hoped it to became real.
Despite the fact that he is working hard and has great success, Tomas has doubts and questions his commitment to the church – and to God, of course. At first the appearence of this priest was distracting – because of his model like qualities – and seemed to be a bit of a superficial choice and direction, but here comes the acting: Herrera can act and is able to bring emotion and realness to the character. He is fighting with himself because of a forbidden love.
The Rance family has had a tough year – Henry (Alan Ruck), the father is weakening mentally because of an accident, Kat (Brianne Howey), the older sister has lost her best friend in a severe car crash – almost ending her career as a ballerina. And if this is not enough, Angela (Geena Davis), the mother starts to hear weird noises, and somehow thinks that her daughter, Kate is possessed by a demon.She turns to the popular priest, Tomas for help – she is an avid and militant believer, and a great supporter of the church. He has a great relationship with the family, and is ready to accept that Angela is right – however, after facing the evil they realize that it is not Kat who has the problems, but Casey (Hannah Kasulka), who seems to be taken over by some supernatural force.
Tomas has his visions about another priest who is exorcising a young boy – meet Father Marcus (Ben Daniels), an excommunicated priest who has been learning to be a fighter against demons since his early childhood, making him more and more cynical. He had his years of success until a certain case, where he lost the battle, made him retire. The way that Ben Daniels portrays the burned-out and devastated priest is exceptional, one of the highlights of the series. Such a great actor.He travels to Chicago because of the reports about Casey Rance – he wants to help Tomas who is not too experienced with the rituals. While they are gathering the evidences for an exorcism – they need an approval of course –, a serial killer is hunting in Chicago. Families have been murdered and different organs have been removed from the bodies. Marcus gets suspicious, and after a meeting with a couple - avid horror tour fans –, he realizes that a satanistic ritual – Volcare Pulvare – is being held which summons demons with help of the deads’ ashes.
While Casey Rance is fighting with the evil spirit, the team of satanists - led by a newly possessed man, the head of the police – is planning to assassin the visiting pope and take over the power.The first 5 episodes are a bit like a recreated story of the „new” Regan, Carras and Merrin, but it works perfectly. While the pilot had a few jump scares, later they avoid using this cheap fright trick – making the story itself to be scary as hell.
Let’s say a few words about the technical aspect of the first exorcism, since we see a dozen during the run of the show: it is not entirely made with CGI – thank God! They use – just like the original – prosthetics, make-up, animatronics and camera tricks.It is good to see that they did step away from the clichéd storyline when it became obvious that it is not the majorette looking hottie, Kat, who has the problems, but her sister, Casey – she seems like an outsider, a bit like Carrie at the prom night. With her help we can see how the demon seduces its victims – the evil is a character on his own: Robert Emmet Lunney is a great villain. We can see how he befriends her, how he plays his own games, how he takes her over, seduces her and later abuses Casey sexually and mentally. The process of the possession has 3 waves: seduction, extension and integration, when the human spirit dies – this state is irreversible.The first half of the series is truly scary and enjoyable, we all can route for these people.It is worth to mention that the leader of the satanistic „club” is highly interesting – we never can fully judge if she is a villan or not, bad or good. The character is so deeply unsettling that we can somehow understand her: she has been rejected several times by the evil despite her hard work as a follower.
The portrayal of this group is also lacking the cliché elements – they are not murdering for a reward from the Satan, but because they are grateful for all the goods they „received” from the leader of Hell: culture, knowledge and the advantage of Eve opposing God. And their desire is not less than ruling the World, together with the Satan. I would highlight the finale of episode 5 which was so stunning that it blew my mind and took my breath away – and I was not the only one. That twist made it obvious that this series is one of the most memorable ones ever.
The demon who is torturing Casey is very familiar to us… not a beginner, but the king of all demons: Pazuzu, who possessed Regan back in the original. This time he is angry and willing to finish what he started back 43 years ago. I was not aware of the fact that it is a direct sequel, although there were several hommages to the Friedkin masterpiece. Geena Davis gives a standout performance as she is confessing that she is Regan indeed (her name is an anagram – A Clean Regan), changed her name and started a new life – without her mother. Their relationship suffered later on when the aging actress started to sell out the story of her own daughter – Chris MacNeil (Sharon Gless) is old and repentant now, trying to connect Regan/Angela.We can see flashbacks of the demon seducing the young Regan – a great choice was made by the creators: not using CGI to manipulate the original footage: they bring new actors to play the characters. Another layer has been added to the source material, the original book (by Blatty).At first it was strange to see that Chris, the loving mother we all got to know is selling out her daughter – later we can basically understand her point of view as an actress and a human being who fails.
And of course it is really great that they decided to avoid any of the notorious prequels and sequels of The Exorcist – finally giving an end to this great story.
The series was met with overall praise – the critics and the audience loved it as well. And now everyone is demanding Season 2 of course. I was so worried whether the grand finale meets my expectations or not, because of the possible cancellation, but thank God, we get what we wanted – but of course it is done with style and there are options for further episodes.
This season proves that a good sequel is possible for a cult classic if there is talent and will to create something unique and I can only pray that Jeremy Slater may continue his visions and his stories with the Devil himself.
Easter egg: during the episode (Chapter 9) we can see a quick shot of the front of Tomas’s church. And yes, it is a well known building here in Budapest, at Rose Square (Rózsák tere).