Jul 6, 2021
The Exorcist: Priests gone wild
In 1973, the original-brand The Exorcist was a sensation. Everyone was talking about the shock factor of a tween girl behaving really badly. The victim, Regan MacNeil, was an innocent 12 year old—the same age as Nabokov’s Lolita. The first signs of demonic possession looked a lot like the onset of puberty: turbo-charged. Regan lost interest in things she’d always liked. She became sullen and turned into a smart-ass, and started fighting with her mother. There were some physical changes, the use of profanity, and the next thing you know she’s talking dirty to a priest and masturbating with a cross.
In the age of helicopter parenting, no way could FOX’s new show have cast a minor in the role of victim. Here the possessed is older than Regan, and I defy anyone to find the actress’s age on the internet. Only her range (15-24) is available. Welcome back to the good old days, when television regularly cast people in their thirties as adolescents.
In this version, the focus is more on the priests (or, given the casting, I’ll be focusing more on the priests). They’re a different breed—cowboys of the clergy who could grace the cover of GQ.
We begin with just such a troublesome priest, carrying a satchel as he walks purposefully down a dark, lonely street. There are dogs barking, and there’s screaming coming from up on a hill. Lots of screaming. The hat and the bag are reminiscent of the 1973 film, but we definitely aren’t in Georgetown anymore.
Instead, it looks to be some Latin American slum. He looks up the hill at a house with a light coming out of a single window.
We cut to a generic neighborhood in what we learn later is Chicago (but honestly, locator titles wouldn’t have hurt), where we meet priest number two. The hottest man to don the cassock since Richard Chamberlain made Barbara Stanwyck crazy in The Thorn Birds is sermonizing to an almost empty house. The church has seen better days. I’m not talking about the Church, I mean this particular building, which has peeling paint, and is a bit threadbare. Father Tomas comes down from the pulpit, working the room, even joking around with a little boy. The kid’s his nephew, so the cheap altar boy jokes will have to wait.
As people file out, Father Hottie takes their hands. We meet Angela (Geena Davis), who’s here with her husband Henry, who has some unnamed malady which looks a lot like early onset Alzheimer’s. Angela hands the priest a wad of cash for the restoration. Their daughter Casey is with them, but her older sister Catherine isn’t. As the priest is talking to Casey, there’s what looks like a homeless man signaling him, and then he’s gone. What does it mean? Nothing we can figure out at the moment. But so far, nothing scary is happening. So far, this show is showing a lot of restraint. It’s the PBS News Hour to American Horror Story‘s Hannity.
At Angela’s house, we get more homaging the Friedkin film as Angela walks down a hallway toward a closed door. She knocks on the door and tries to get Catherine to come down for dinner. Cat yells that she’s not hungry. Time to check the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Demonic Disorders IV to see if lack of appetite is a symptom. It is!
Father Hottie is wearing jeans and a tee shirt, and babysitting the little boy from church, who as we already discussed is his nephew, so nothing to see here. His sister Julia, the boy’s mother, comes to pick him up and notices a letter her brother received. It’s from a married lady friend, and this leads to a conversation about some past occurrence and how he really doesn’t have to be a priest if he’d rather be with the ladies. He insists there’s nothing going on, and I’m sure we’ll be getting back to this again.
In the generic Latin American slum, it’s daytime, and there’s yet another priest in a taxi. This is Father Bennett, and he’s coming to see Father Marcus, the first priest. Bennett goes up to the house on the hill, where some old-time rock n’roll is playing, because this is Marcus’ thing. And there’s Marcus on the terrace looking like Father Cool with his black pants and Doc Martens. And if priests really looked like these guys, the pews would be full.
Bennett has been sent by Rome to end Father Marcus’ rogue operation. There’s reference to Haiti and a girl who died. Bennett looks in on Marcus’ current patient and tells him that “the boy” belongs in a hospital. Marcus pulls a gun on him, like in some old time Western where the rancher tells the railroad speculator to get off his land. Bennett leaves. Marcus goes in to see the boy, who’s tied to a bed (let’s not go there) and asking for his mother. Here we get to see Marcus’ soft side as he comforts a scared child, and which is more fantastical? Demonic possession, or the idea that a responsible parent anywhere in the world would leave their kid alone with a Catholic priest?
Suddenly, Father Hottie is in the room with them, but they don’t see or hear him. The boy is now speaking in his demon voice, and there’s a weird mark on his eye. Then Father Hottie wakes up. It was all a crazy dream, as well as a clumsy setup.
Back in Angela’s house, she hearing strange sounds coming from inside the wall. But when Casey comes downstairs, she smiles and denies anything is wrong. Casey goes to talk to Cat, and we get our first glimpse of her. She’s half as scary as your average goth. She’s goth-lite. Casey tells her she could use a shower and might consider turning on a light. Is it depression or possession? Time will tell.
At the church, Father Hottie goes down to the dark basement to flip a circuit breaker. We’re set up for scariness. There are even bats. Bats are scary, right? Suddenly, he turns around and—FAKE OUT—it’s only Angela, who’s come to talk to him. (Reminder to self: Must not make surgery-shaming jokes about Geena Davis’ scary Joker mouth.)
They go to his office. She’s worried about Cat, and we finally get the story: Cat was involved in a car accident, in which a friend died. But there’s more: Angela tells Father Hottie that “things are going on in the house.” She describes chairs moved around the next day, books on the floor, voices, etc. Eventually, she uses the “D” word, but Father Hottie tells her that demons are just a metaphor and not totally real like Jesus, the virgin birth, and Santa Claus.
She tells him she has four hundred employees working under her, and therefore isn’t crazy, because it’s not like a crazy person could ever be successful and/or get the nomination for president of a major political party.
We’re watching crows gathering outside the window, and if you’ve ever seen The Birds or a parody of it, you know what’s coming. In the midst of Hottie taking the rational position, one of the crows dives into the window, shattering the glass and spattering its blood all over the Bible on the padre’s desk. Not exactly subtle.
Next, we see Tomas on the train to Angela’s. He falls asleep and dreams again of Father Marcus and the boy. At Angela’s, Father Hottie is in Cat’s bedroom, and in the daylight she’s almost as pretty as he is. She thinks her mother is losing her mind. He asks her if she’s been having bad dreams, and she’s like, “Huh?” Cat is on her bed, fully dressed, but still. The hot priest is sitting in a chair right beside the bed. Angela must be very trusting, or maybe she just assumes priests aren’t into girls?
Father Hottie stays for dinner. Cat comes downstairs, but she blows up at her father, who walks out of the room. Sullen teenager or of the devil? You decide.
On the way out, Father Hottie says goodbye to Henry, who has apparently been hacked into by God or the devil. Henry tells him he can find Marcus at St. Aquinas “off 41.” Hottie is all, “Huh?” but by then Henry has reset back to his new normal, and the message given has now been deleted from what’s left of his brain.
Of course, God (or the devil) works in mysterious ways, and Henry is still going to need more information—like, what exit exactly? So he goes back to his rectory and checks the internet for “Father Marcus Exorcism”, because even he knows where this is heading, but he doesn’t find anything. Then he just looks up “exorcism”, and we get some images which are different from those in the real-life internet which gives us a lot of Linda “Pea Soup Anybody?” Blair. He also sees a newspaper article about the deaths of two priests at the home of the actress Chris O’Neil in Georgetown. He might want to take some time to really read that one. Finally, he finds the St. Aquinas Home for Wayward Priests, and let’s try not to think about what most of them are there for.
Hottie dreams again of Marcus. He witnesses the final scene of the Mexico exorcism. Remember that time Linda Blair’s puppet stand-in’s head did a 360, but she was just fine?
Doesn’t work so well with this little boy. The demon kills him dead, and Marcus weeps.
Hottie drives out to the Home for Misguided Clergy, and after a conversation about the divine plan with some old priest who may be in league with dark forces, Hottie spots Marcus and follows the sound of that old time rock n’ roll to Marcus’ room, where he’s playing It Was a Miracle on a cassette player, because this show is going right on the nose with the music. Marcus wants Hottie to prove he’s for real, which seems to require both of them to stand intimately close to each other while simultaneously reciting a nursery rhyme.
Marcus then hints about a whole slew of dark forces he’s battling, and tells Hottie he’s out of his depth. After he leaves, Marcus yells at God because he’s not so impressed with the pretty-boy priest.
Hottie goes back to Angela’s, where they drink wine, because this is television and all the ladies on television drink wine. They talk theology. We get an explanation for one of the shows mysteries: Why does Hottie have a Mexican accent and his sister doesn’t? The answer is because after their parents separated, he went to live with his grandmother in Mexico (and not because the horror genre audience is disproportionately Hispanic by 300%). Also, granny was the one who pushed him into the priesthood. He tells Angela how now he knows his purpose is to help her family.
Just like before (and probably next time), their chat is interrupted by a strange occurrence. There’s a scream upstairs. They head toward Cat’s room, when suddenly the attic door opens and the ladder comes down.
Hottie goes up and turns on the light, but the bulb immediately burns out, so he uses his cellphone flashlight. He sees Cat or thinks he does. Then there’s a rat, which goes into a St. Vitus dance and dies. A definitely unnatural arm reaches out and grabs the rat.
And then things get really weird. He sees Casey in a nightgown looking all demon-y. What does “demon-y” look like? Stringy hair and keen eyes, sort of like heroin chic. She pounces on him with superhuman strength and starts to choke him. Angela comes up with a new light bulb, and before she can see anything suspicious, Casey is back to looking normal, and tells her mother that Father Tomas killed a rat. She looks at Hottie and adds that where there’s one, there’s “probably a whole bunch.”
Hottie leaves, throwing out the rat corpse on his way out. He looks over at the window, and there’s Casey staring back at him. We cut to the Priest Limbo House, where Father Marcus has packed up his satchel of demon-fighting magic and put on his hat. Marcus has left the building.