The Exorcist (2016 TV Series)

**Minor Spoilers for Season One**

Recently, years have been kinder to remaking popular properties, at least in respects to television. While Noah Hawley brought a nuance of humor and violence in the pseudo-sequel Fargo series, Jeremy Slater has brought The Exorcist to the modern day in his gory, creepy, and at times sinister interpretation. Despite being raised by an ex-Catholic and having only stepped foot in a church for baptisms and funerals, there’s something about the mythology surrounding the Exorcist series that has made for satisfying and fascinating horror. The original 1975 film delightfully doles out its gruesomeness in sharp moments that bookend what feel like cinematic chapters, due in part to the literary feeling that the movie invokes. Any possession film that apes on The Exorcist, which frankly is just about every single one, tend to hone in on the body horror and freakiness that Linda Blair portrayed in the film as her character slowly succumbed to the will of the demon that was possessing her. But what so few copycats understand is the calm aesthetic that presides over the film, which makes those moments of horror really sting because they are only hinted at through the subtleties of the demon’s face appearing in brief glimpses in the darkness.

As a television series, there is an allotted amount of time to be more literary as opposed to the condensed nature of film, meaning that the scares can be earned and the characters can be fleshed out. On the one hand, the 2016 show succeeds in allowing us to spend time with its characters; the core Rance family of Angela (Geena Davis), Henry (Alan Ruck), and sisters Kat (Brianne Howey) and Casey (Hannah Kasulka); and our two priests Father Tomas (Alfonso Harrera) and renegade Father Marcus (Ben Daniels). On the other hand the show doesn’t want to build with subtly in the way that the original film does, mostly because the show knows very well that at this point the market of possession in media is so oversaturated that there’s no sense in beating around the bush. There needs to be gore, there needs to be objects flying, bodies contorting, and third pupils rolling around in someone’s eyesball. So what the show aims to do instead is make its case for faith and perseverance in the face of a world that is filled with pure evil.

The Rance family has suffered in their own ways; first with Henry’s scaffolding accident which has damaged his memory a bit, making him forgetful and absent-minded; and older daughter Kat’s car accident that shattered her knee, ending her dancing career, and more importantly taking away her first true love. This leaves Angela holding the family together while Casey has fallen to the wayside as she seems to be the only one still composed and therefore the most emotionally stable. The pilot episode makes it clear that Kat’s behavior since her accident has changed her in every sensible way; she is a recluse, emotionally numb and aggravated by those around her, unwilling to accept her family’s support and faith in her as she tries to heal on her own terms. Her vulnerability sets her up for possession, of which we know is inevitable upon this family that seems to have already suffered enough. This is what perpetuates Angela into the office of Father Tomas, the priest of her parish, in which she claims that Kat is likely under the forces of demonic possession. This isn’t a matter of mental illness, she is undoubtedly sure that it is a matter of spirituality at hand.

This introduces an interesting parallel that flows through the entire series; that of the psychological health in conjunction with a person’s faith. Characters who have fallen victim to the demon in this series have to endure a sense of self-sacrifice and self-reservation; using their faith in God not as a shield to hide behind but as a tool to define their own strength. Throughout the series characters are encouraged to “fight it” with the additive that the real “them” is still in there, but in the final few episodes it really drives him that the strength they need can only be found within themselves that goes beyond superlatives. The will to fight cannot be put upon someone, it’s a matter of finding it within. This notion can easily be seen as a reflection of that we find with depression. The mentality is the same: the sense of hopelessness, the ongoing guilt for feeling or saying things that are unlike us but that in which we can’t control, the loss of one’s self and the feeling that this kind of emptiness will never cease, that finality of wondering if suffering is worth struggling through, and so on.

The show tackles this in a series of ways, becoming more metaphorical and visually surreal as episodes go on, but affecting every character on the show. Father Tomas is a priest who questions his faith, who questions his purpose and whether or not he truly even believes in the religion he subscribes to. Father Marcus on the other hand is so beaten down by his decades worth of work as an exorcist that the one thing he can cling to is his undefeatable faith in God, but at the cost of isolation from a normal life. Angela, as it is revealed in a pivotal moment at the end of episode five, has to face her past and how that has affected her entire way of being and what will be. She is a permanent victim that has to use the memories and pain she had previously had to save herself and her family. Very much so in the vein of the final moments of the original Nightmare on Elm Street, she has to take back her vulnerability and fear that had allowed her to succumb to this state, whether you look at that as literal or metaphorical.

A second season of the show is on its way, soon actually because I am nothing if not timely with watching things, and I’m curious about the direction of the show. The first season ends in a way that could very easily be a series finale, if it hadn’t been picked up for a second season, it still ends satisfactory. But now that we know it isn’t, that proposes a lot of potential for where it takes these characters or new characters. The show makes a thesis that the belief in one’s self is the strongest contention of God’s love that you could have, and that strength is what keeps the characters going and keeps them alive. As a statement for mental health, I believe this also applies, as the work to heal oneself cannot be done without the will to do so. I hope that this carries on into the next season, as it has been an enjoyable show to watch and I highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the franchise. It’s more in line with the Exorcist III than Exorcist II, which is also a fantastic film that does not ignore the grimness of realities in the contextual universe of unmitigated evil.

As I am not a religious person, this comparison is the only way I can interpret the series/movies so anyone with any sort of knowledge of Catholism would like to enlighten me on their perspective of The Exorcist, film or series, please do so in the comments.