by Jef Burnham
Now available on DVD from BFS Entertainment.
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Martin Shaw (Judge John Deed, Inspector George Gently) stars in this BBC horror/drama as Father Jacob, a Roman Catholic priest whose duties include investigating miracles for the Vatican and, of course, performing the occasional exorcism. After being confronted by an abused little girl whose father she believes is possessed by demons, Father Jacob uncovers a demonic plot that threatens to destroy his faith and the Church itself. Written and in-part directed by Doctor Who Series One veteran, Joe Ahearne, Apparitions is a gory, suspenseful, and most of all challenging series that, at six episodes, is over all-too-soon.
Apparitions relies heavily on the audience’s ability to suspend their disbelief in aspects of Catholicism that many Catholics even find hard to swallow, such as demonic possession and exorcism. But the material’s matter-of-fact presentation in both Ahearne’s writing and the naturalism of Martin Shaw’s series-carrying performance make these elements immediately accessible. In fact, if anything in the series is difficult to handle, it is either the violence (which is surprisingly graphic and bloody for television) or the incorporation of the Catholic Church’s attitude toward homosexuality. To the credit of Joe Ahearne, the latter subject is introduced and all-but-completely shuffled off in the series’ first episode, after it is discovered a young, would-be priest is a homosexual and is expelled for it (there’s more to it than that, but who am I to spoil endings?). More importantly, though, this thread is utilized not in way of a thematic statement about homosexuality, although the series does employ a curiously contrived bathhouse as the only representation of gay culture; but acts as a means of distancing Jacob from Church officials that he might stand alone in his battle against Hell’s forces.
While the standard depiction of the demonically possessed is that associated with Regan MacNeil in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), each episode of Apparitions features its own unique possession to challenge Father Jacob’s faith. I find the most disturbing of these to be that of the fourth episode, in which some of the concepts really, really shook me— more so than anything else in the series to be sure. Ahearne doesn’t pull any punches in his depiction of the demons’ intentions, and it is often quite sickening as the demon’s focus their efforts on those closest to Father Jacob. It is an incredibly effective and affecting series and it all boils down to powerful conceptualization on the part of Ahearne and co-creator Nick Collins.
BFS presents Apparitions in a 2-disc DVD set that, although bereft of special features, boasts a very nice transfer of the series. However, I did encounter a brief visual oddity in the sixth episode characterized by the momentary presence of little red squares across the screen, but it didn’t affect play and could easily have been missed.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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