I know this may be hard to believe – I certainly didn’t expect to believe it – but The Exorcist TV show is pretty great. In fact, it’s one of the best new horror movies you can watch on Halloween.
Obviously the definition of “movie” is being stretched here, but what makes The Exorcist , created by Jeremy Slater (Fantastic Four), stand out is the way it flat out ignores a lot of episodic, network TV show conventions. Only five episodes (of a total of ten) have aired so far, but there’s no wheel spinning involved, no elaborate misdirects and setups of unrelated plot lines or characters that are tossed in just to artificially inflate buzz. This is a show that’s remarkably focused on unraveling a story and building a whole hell of a lot of dread in the process.
This isn’t just a rote, beat-for-beat TV retelling of William Friedkin’s classic, either. It obviously has shades of that story. There are overtones, a repeated line of dialogue here or a familiar needle drop there, but this is very much so a new story about a well-to-do family thrust into an increasingly chaotic life when one of their daughters comes down with a really nasty case of demonic possession. And the way the show handles said possession really sets it apart from the franchise at large and other exorcism stories. The show doesn’t waste any time waffling with “Is this real? Is she just crazy?” questions.
In the world of the show it’s all very real, and not only that, but we also get to see it unfold from the perspective of its poor victim as she’s visited by an increasingly malevolent being that only she can see.
And while all of the standard demonic possession stuff is there, there’s even more horror at play. I won’t get into spoiler territory, but the larger, cryptic presence that’s building in the show’s Chicago is straight up horrifying. It combines with the family’s more intimate story to create a show that’s covered in this increasingly foul, unpleasant miasma. And yet, even with the pervasive sense of dread, the show still maintains enough charisma, enough humanity to keep you hooked, keep you embed in its characters.
A lot of horror these days is just filled with misery tourism and shock and awe carefully designed to get people gasping and talking at watercoolers. The Exorcist certainly has moments that are going to get you buzzing, but they’re all well earned and quick to pay off. The cliffhangers involved are organic questions whose answers seem right around the corner. There’s a restraint in that style of episodic storytelling that many shows these days fail to exert.
I realize it may seem weird to spend your Halloween night watching half of a TV show (that’s all that’s currently aired), but I’m telling you it’s way more terrifying, way more satisfying of a story than you’re expecting. All of the cast is strong, the performances are great, the production value is stellar and so on, but that much is to be expected with the names involved. The always creeping sense of fear and lingering evil that Slater and company have pulled off is just remarkable. Whether you watch it on actual Halloween or not, you do need to give it a shot. Even with me trying to stress that The Exorcist will surprise you with how good it is, you’re still going to be surprised at how good it is.
The Exorcist airs new episodes on Friday nights on Fox (9PM EST). The first five episodes are available on Hulu, as well as on Amazon and iTunes.