I dreaded watching the new Fox version of The Exorcist, premiering Friday night, because I figured it would never equal or exceed the scariness of the 1973 William Friedkin movie — and that the limitations of network television would turn the story into something closer to an American Mildly-Horrific Story.
The pleasant surprise is that this new Exorcist, as conceived by writer Jeremy Slater, is both well-acted and at times quite disturbing. It stars Alfonso Herrera as a Chicago priest who has a parishioner played by Geena Davis; she thinks one of her daughters may be possessed by a demon … with, it turns out, good reason. We also see another priest, played by Ben Daniels, performing an exorcism on a young Mexican boy. The pilot has a few visual images — a bony hand darting out of darkness to catch a scurrying rat; a crow that crashes into a window and dies, trapped, caught in the glass shards — that are truly striking and startling.
There’s clearly a fresh intelligence at work here that does not want to be bound by Friedkin’s movie or William Peter Blatty’s source novel. I didn’t think I’d be saying this, but I’m curious to watch next week’s episode to see what happens.
The Exorcist airs Friday nights at 9 p.m. on Fox.