Since the concept of fear and the transfiguration of fear into films such as “Nosferatu,” it has become well-known that horror movies draw on the inherent, natural fears that are already present in the minds of its viewers. However, it’s not only the adrenaline rush that draws us to watch a spooky flick, but also the anticipation of a final endgame — a conclusion to satiate viewers, more or less. Anything appearing on screen is set to reach a resolution in 90 minutes, which is also why horror movies such as these burn bright and fast.
However, a sudden resurgence of classic cult flicks in the form of inspired television series has started taking over primetime. And while series like “Stranger Things” have gained a following for their ability to prolong suspense over eight episodes, shows like “Sleepy Hollow” fell from the spotlight after only one season. Theoretically, and if a horror-centered show plays its cards right, the multiple-episode nature of TV gives more time to draw out suspense, as well as add in details, that a movie would often overlook for time purposes. However, there’s a thin line between effectively managing these concepts and losing viewers faster than drawing them in.
In 1973, William Friedkin’s revolutionary film “The Exorcist” debuted in cinemas around the world. Considered to be one of the greatest horror films of all time, “The Exorcist” left its viewers with profound questions of religion and reintroduced the world to the word “scary” in a time post-“Rosemary’s Baby.” In other words, “The Exorcist” was a terrifying movie for its time. Since then, horror masters such as Wes Craven and Stephen King emerged into the spotlight of horror cinema and have succeeded in reproducing the same type of scary that Friedkin’s film brought to the table.
In Fox’s newest series, “The Exorcist,” a worried mother, Angela (Geena Davis, “Grey’s Anatomy”), captures the attention of local Reverend Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera, “Sense8”) when her home begins to show signs of a demonic possession. And, much like in its film predecessor, Angela’s daughter begins to act strangely.
So far, the pilot does a mediocre job of conveying true emotion. Sure, the gloomy mood and the character personas match, but there really isn’t any romance to the act. The degree of separation that exists between the 1973 “Exorcist” and the revamped series may serve to take away from the golden standard of horror cinema produced between the ’50s and ’80s. For example, though one of the benefits of a horror series is to elaborate on details oftentimes skimmed over in movies, the pilot episode of “The Exorcist” leaves both specificity and direction alike to chance.
As a pilot episode, there is too much packed into the 60-minute allotment. The sequence of events, as a result, becomes hard to follow under the stress of the conflicting storylines. While the present moves toward the beginning sequence of the original “Exorcist,” the past is often referenced in haunting flashbacks experienced in a dream state by Reverend Ortega. Though it’s easy to differentiate between the dream world and the present, the initial sequence is difficult to follow. Hopefully, if the series continues past its pilot episode, this awkwardness will smooth out and appear only sporadically throughout the remainder of the season.
For devout followers of “The Exorcist,” the series’ pilot episode certainly brings a sense of nostalgia at the playing of the iconic score, especially as the carpetbag-wielding priest’s silhouette is seen walking toward the famous exorcism. However, though the series obviously pays homage to the original, it’s important to note that it isn’t taking the same direct approach as the original film. For example, there are multiple exorcism cases discussed in this series, which opens the door for a broader discussion of demonic possession and the church’s actions toward such events. This also leaves the conversation open for a discussion on religion, which was heavily referenced in the series’ namesake, but not often elaborated on due to obvious time constraints.
On this same note, if the writers do wish to take the series past its current status as another extended horror movie, then they’re clearly taking steps in the right direction, so long as they can keep up with their own pace. And though the majority of this new series is jam-packed with easily forgettable character introductions and dream states, the last couple of minutes shows progress toward the creepy edge that pushed “The Exorcist” into cinematic horror history.