Arts/Culture

Split Screen: The Exorcist by Sheldon Lee Compton

Sheldon Lee Compton / Split Screen

So let’s talk about The Exorcist. Not the 1973 greatest-horror-movie-of-all-time Exorcist but the Fox television series Exorcist.

The Talent

The show keeps the general spirit of the original film, flashes back nicely to include segments from the original, has a twist or two that incorporates the original, and so on. It does this well. Now let’s talk about what this show is doing all on its own and doing in spades.

It’s doing right by Geena Davis, for one thing. Davis was a bombshell star in the 80s and early 90s with film credits such as The Fly, A League of Their Own, Beetlejuice, and Thelma & Louise. She’s bringing some serious swag on screen when, to be honest, I thought she had gone the way of the Dodo long ago. In fact, I think she truly did suffer some kind of professional death. I think her role here as Angela Rance is her Pulp-Fiction-John-Travolta project. Or it could be. We’ll see. But she’s bringing some real depth to her character, a wife and mother and dedicated Catholic. Like a really really dedicated Catholic, which makes all the sense in the world about halfway through the season. Also, she really shines as the wife of a man with a head injury that has left him with cognitive issues similar to dementia but never elaborated on. The husband is played by Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’s own Alan Ruck who played Ferris’s best friend Cameron Frye in the classic coming of age film.

But it’s not Davis or Ruck who is carrying the show at this point. As with the original, there are two primary priests working the demons, one of which is Ben Daniels playing Father Marcus. Daniels is an Englishman who was a well-known stage-actor at the beginning of his career and it shows He has major screen presence, stealing pretty much any scene he’s a part of, including the opening scene, which calls back to the streetlight, handbag scene made famous from the film. Father Marcus Keane is renegade and talented to the point of being God-appointed in the truest sense of the term. His priest in training, and arguably one of the two main characters of the show, Father Tomas Ortega, played by newcomer Alfonso Herrera, is in no way shabby himself, playing the conflicted but devoted and well-meaning priest of a struggling Boston parish.

The rest of the cast are spot on, especially the young actresses playing Davis and Ruck’s daughters Casey Rance and Katherine Rance, portrayed by Hannah Kalsulka and Brianne Howey, respectively.

The Creepy Factor

Throughout the first episode, The Exorcist seemed bound and determined to be another treatment of a classic film that missed the mark. Let’s face it, the show was going to be held to a pretty high standard from the beginning. And it should. And that standard should be, okay how much is this show going to scare the crap out of me? It should be a lot, or at least a lot when it chooses to do so. The first episode does the thing all pilot episodes do in laying the groundwork for how this show is going to work. Then, once that is out of the way, we have what I since come to call The Scene. Father Tomas is prompted by Angela to come to the house to inspect things a bit. She is convinced that her daughter Katherine, aka Kat, is possessed. So Father Tomas, always willing to help and himself spurred by some general uneasiness, agrees to visit. The inspection leads him to the attic. Yes, the attic. So far so cliche. But my oh my. It is anything but. This is the point at which I knew the show had the goods for bringing a television spin-off of The Exorcist to light. It was the come-to-Jesus moment for me.

Don’t get me wrong, there were a few creepy moments going on before this, too. Father Marcus in the opening scene is in Mexico performing an exorcism on a young boy, a scene that definitely had some shock and creepiness happening.

In general, the show will appeal to viewers looking for both the cerebral and the outright horrifying. And with a solid narrative in place (one of the big impending aspects of the plot is a visit to the city in which the show is set, Boston, my none other than the Pope himself) I can recommend Fox’s The Exorcist without hesitation. Well, one hesitation: Watch the movie first.


Sheldon Lee Compton

Sheldon Lee Compton is a novelist, short story writer, editor, and columnist. He is the author of three books – the collections The Same Terrible Storm (Foxhead Books, 2012), Where Alligators Sleep(Foxhead Books, 2014), and the novel Brown Bottle (Bottom Dog Press, 2016). In 2012, he was a finalist for both the Gertrude Stein Fiction Award and the Still Fiction Award. The Same Terrible Storm was nominated for the Thomas and Lillie D. Chaffin Award for Excellence in Appalachian Writing, while his short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, Best of the Web, and cited in Best Small Fictions 2015 and Best Small Fictions 2016, guest edited by Robert Olen Butler and Stuart Dybek, respectively. Other writing has appeared in the anthologies Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia (Bottom Dog Press, 2010), Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean: Meditations on the Forbidden from Contemporary Appalachia (Ohio University Press, 2015), and Larry Fessenden’s Sudden Storm: A Wendigo Reader (Fiddleblack, 2016). He is the past founder and editor of four literary journals and is currently the founding editor of the online flash fiction journal The Airgonaut.

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