“SOUTH OF HELL” (TV Pilot Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley
The exorcism subgenre has always been one of horror’s most trickiest to navigate, considering the bar was set so high so early in the genre’s inception. Hell, there’s rarely- if ever- been a film about exorcism that hasn’t referenced, homaged or been influenced THE EXORCIST, and for good reason. However, while there is an obvious EXORCIST influence flowing throughout SOUTH OF HELL, the series’ does twist all the familiarities of demonic possession to do something a bit different, even if the pilot does substitute substance for world-building.
For those unfamiliar, SOUTH OF HELL follows Maria Abascal, a girl who survived an apocalypse cult in her youth only to be marred with a demonic alter ego named Abigail. However, rather than allowing the demon within her to ruin her life, she has decided to control and wield Abigail’s strength against other demons. Yet when the ghosts of her past literally begin to return, Maria and her troubled brother David are forced to face a greater evil head-on.
Playing as a cross between THE INCREDIBLE HULK and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, SOUTH OF HELL is a more charming venture than one might imagine, mixing action, humor and drama together with an underbelly of horror. In the pilot, directed by Eli Roth, there isn’t quite much too new on display in terms of scares but the competent execution and promise for a fun, Southern Gothic series with a cable-acceptable edge works in the show’s favor. Mix that with a couple of exciting fight scenes, one of which is likely most ambitious fight put to small screen horror since HANNIBAL’s museum brawl, and star Mena Suvari’s fantastic take on Abigail and it’s clear how SOUTH OF HELL could really be something great.
However, SOUTH OF HELL isn’t exactly a home run either, disappointing in a few areas. Outside of Suvari’s excellent dual performance as Maria and Abigail as well as Zachary Booth and Lamman Rucker’s strong supporting performances, the other performances on the show feel dry and forgettable, although there is a chance that these other characters and performances will have more time to develop over the 7-episode first season. Furthermore, the pilot concentrates more on building the supernatural world around Maria/Abigail and her history without necessarily establishing the rules of the supernatural presence, which can get a bit confusing and unfocused at times. Lastly, while much of the creepier moments are achieved practically, there is some spotty CGI- especially in terms of a certain character’s eye replacement- that ultimately detracts from the experience as a whole.
Overall, SOUTH OF HELL looks to be something that could be a bit more light-hearted and fun as opposed to some of the more self-serious horror shows out there today. While the pilot suffers from several problems, SOUTH OF HELL definitely feels as if it’s laying the groundwork for something a bit more expansive and sinister in its first episode. And SOUTH OF HELL also serves as a great vehicle for Mena Suvari as a horror lead, playing both sides of the possessed/possessor coin in a way that is too damn good to not want to see more.