The Exorcist, the television series that serves as a sequel of sorts to the 1973 William Friedkin horror classic, follows two very different priests tackling one family’s case of demonic possession. Caught in the middle is the Rance family, a seemingly normal suburban family but in reality anything but. Patriarch Henry Rance seems to be losing his mind, older daughter Katherine is a recluse who refuses to leave her room, and younger sister Casey says she can hear noises coming from within the walls of their home. And then there’s their mother, Angela, played by Geena Davis, who is plagued with recurring nightmares, each more frightening than the last, who out of desperation reaches out to the priests for help to literally save the soul of someone in her family.
The executive producer is Jeremy Slater, whose feature screenwriting credits include The Lazarus Effect, early drafts of last year’s The Fantastic Four, and the forthcoming Death Note. Empire was able to sit down with Slater to briefly his intent with The Exorcist.
How would you describe the set-up of the series?
Angela Rance's family has been beset by calamity over the past several months. Her daughter was in a terrifying car accident that crippled her and ended her career, and she has issues with her husband. Angela is starting to hear weird whispers in the walls and things are being moved around her house. She comes from a very religious background and the more she digs into it and starts realizing there's something wrong with her daughter, the more she's kind of led to this conclusion that this may be demonic possession.
What were the primary challenges in taking this particular property and turning it into a television series?
The film is a classic. It's one of the best movies ever made and it has very large shoes to fill. A big part of the reason I took the job in the first place was to prevent someone else from just remaking the same story. You're never going to do it better, you're only going to do it more. When the project came around, I said the only way I'm going to do this is if we can tell a brand new story with brand new characters, while setting it in the same universe as the film. It's like the show Fargo in that if you love the original movie, hopefully you'll find stuff to love here. It was so important that you care about the Rance family and that you're invested in them. That’s what keeps you coming back week to week, and not necessarily the title.
If you solve the Rance family’s problem in the first season, where does this show go, or is it like American Horror Story where the priests will leave this experience and embark on another one somewhere else?
That's a great question. We've asked our selves that many times. The idea is that this first season is a self-contained story with a beginning, a middle and the end. At the end of this season, you will get a definitive answer to the main possession case that's taking place. While we are doing all of this, we are building a mythology and saying that evil has ambitions here. There is a larger design. They have larger goals than just taking a six-year-old girl and possessing her. As we start building that, hopefully by the time you get to the end of the first season, that question will be answered and we will know exactly what we're trying to do and where we're going. It's hard to say without spoiling things. The bad guys have a plan. They're working towards it. There aren't many good guys left who can stop them.
Is it a show that allows for any humor? It’s sounds so serious.
We’ve actually got some funny characters in there. It's always important to have that release in any sort of horror thing. Also, you can't have wall-to-wall, forty-three minutes of pure horror every week, because then you tune out. The reason people are going to come back week after week is because they're invested in these characters and the story. If there's one or two moments in each episode that really scare the hell out you and stay with you the next day, we did our jobs right.
Demons of all sort have been hitting television lately, whether it’s Outcast, Damien, Preacher…now The Exorcist. Why? What’s the appeal?
Look, the world is a scary place right now. You turn on the TV and there's a lot of darkness happening. Sometimes it seems that the bad guys are winning. The appeal of any sort of fiction like this is to address that head on and say, “Maybe there's a reason the bad guys are winning, but there are still good guys in this world. There's still light to push back against the darkness and we still have a chance.”