SHOCK examines the pilot episode of new horror series SOUTH OF HELL.
SOUTH OF HELL is an interesting twist on the standard “exorcist” story. Maria and David are sibling exorcists who have returned to their hometown of Charleston, South Carolina to rid the south of their demons. Of course, they have their own demons to exorcise. David is a junkie, and Maria has a literal demon in her. As kids, their father led a cult, the Order Everlasting. The feds raided it, and only Maria and David made it out alive. The other 200 members, dad included, burned to death.
Before the cult was massacred, daddy dearest conducted a ritual which possessed Maria with her own demon, Abigail. Maria and Abigail perform exorcisms in which Abigail scares the demons out of the possessed, then eats them. While Maria is desperate to free herself from Abigail, there are hints that the two are more dependent on one another than theyd like to admit. Abigail is kept in check with the constant threat that, if Maria dies, she dies too. David is Marias calming force, putting Abigail back in the jar when she is done exorcising.
As we find out in the episode, there is one more survivor of the cult, Grace. The product of a one-night-stand, her father, a reverend, found her in a psych ward, possessed by a particularly nasty demon. He tricks Maria/Abigail into exorcising the demon with promises of exorcising her own demon. It turns out that he needs her to help rid the world of Enos, a particularly nasty demon who was sent to hell, where it made him even meaner. He is back, and has brought a fleet of demons with him.
Unfortunately, only the pilot episode was made available to critics, and it is really hard to tell anything from a pilot. Pilots are often clumsy, trying to jam as much information and as many characters in as possible. (A good example of this is CONSTANTINE: one of the worst pilots I have ever seen, but a really fun series that deserved more than a half-season.) SOUTH OF HELL is a little bloated: beside Maria battling her own literal and figural demons (itself a pretty heavy-handed metaphor), there is the Order Everlasting cult; Davids severe drug problem; what is going on with this slightly-sketchy reverend; the hunky neighbor Maria is too scared to flirt with; and the skeezy landlord who will surely go too far and get himself killed within three episodes.
Mena Suvari plays Maria/Abigail with a strong range of emotions: seductive, violent, sullen. Zachary Booth, as David, goes a good job creating what could be a complicated character. He lies and steals to get his next fix, but he is a devoted brother who gives up easy sex in order to answer his sisters calls for help. He would be easy to hate, but I cant hate him.
SOUTH OF HELL has a prestigious genre lineup behind the scenes. Eli Roth, an executive producer on the project, directed the pilot episode. Though it is without his trademark over-the-top violence and gore, the possessed kid who first introduces us to the demons is genuinely freaky. Jason Blum (the Insidious franchise) is also a producer on the series, and future episodes have been directed by Ti West (THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL), Rachel Talalay (TANK GIRL: FREDDY’S DEAD), and Jennifer Lynch (BOXING HELENA, THE WALKING DEAD). Unfortunately, the three writers on the series dont have a single genre writing credit between them and in fact dont have many writing credits at all. This concerns me because when it comes right down to it, without a compelling script, all the blood and guts in the world wont save a show.
WEtv is an interesting network for this project. If you have never heard of WEtv, it is something that I generally equate to a trashier, more reality-driven little sister of Lifetime. SOUTH OF HELL seems to have a pretty big budget and no former Playboy Playmates or disgraced musicians. I will say that the first episode was intriguing enough for me to give it at least one more episode. The season is only seven episodes long, and in an interesting programming ploy, all seven will air on Friday, November 27th in a Black Friday Binge.