TV review: The Exorcist, SyFy (4 stars)

TV review: The Exorcist, SyFy

The terrifying horror classic heads to TV, starring Geena Davis and Ben Daniels

Even in an increasingly secular society, religious symbolism carries an arcane weight; tapping into primal superstitions and old world fears concerning the very nature of evil and death. It's why The Exorcist was so effective as a horror movie. Even after over 40 years, it's still regularly namechecked as the scariest film of all time. A monster hit on release, tales of people collapsing during screenings and rumours of an 'Exorcist curse' haunting the production only added to its occult mystique. Admittedly a few dodgy sequels have tarnished its terrifying reputation, but if you are going to use the Exorcist brand, people will have high expectations.

The Exorcist TV show is a new story, but the series exists in a reality where the events of the film have already taken place. Geena Davis plays Angela Rance, the matriarch of an average Chicago family. Well, almost average: she believes her daughters may be possessed, and calls on Father Tomas Ortega (Sense8's Alfonso Herrera) for some Catholic intervention. Realising he's woefully out of his depth, Ortega seeks help from resident expert Father Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels), who's still reeling from a botched demonic eviction in Mexico City.

The opening episode drips with dark omens and threatening portents. There's a pervasive melancholy atmosphere that recalls the 1973 feature, and if at times it dips into the exorcism cliché toolbox it's worth remembering William Friedkin's masterpiece practically invented those clichés. The Exorcist takes its time introducing the family, building the tension, creating characters you actually care about. The second episode is less subtle but still manages to sustain the creepy mood.

It could never match the malicious, nerve-shredding power of the original. What could? There are so many great horror TV shows at the moment (from Wolf Creek to American Horror Story) but the last ten minutes of the first episode features probably the scariest scene on television in years. And then the classic Tubular Bells theme kicks in, at the perfect moment to send shivers down your spine. A slow burn horror that will make your skin crawl.

The Exorcist premieres on SyFy, Wed 19 Oct, 9pm.

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