Film & DVD Review: Exorcist: The Beginning

Director: Renny Harlin
Certificate 15 (UK)

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

Warner Bros. Pictures presents, a Morgan Creek production, Exorcist: The Beginning, directed by Renny Harlin an starring Stellan Skarsgard, James D’Arcy and Izabella Scorupco. The film is produced by James G. Robinson, executive produced by Guy McElwaine and David C. Robinson. Story by William Wisher and Caleb Carr, screenplay by Alexi Hawley. Vittorio Storaro serves as cinematographer. The film is edited by Mark Goldblatt. Music by Trevor Rabin.

Plot Summary for Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)

Father Lankester Merrin thinks that he has glimpsed the face of Evil. In the years following World War II, Merrin is relentlessly haunted by memories of the unspeakable brutality perpetrated against the innocent people of his parish during the War. In the wake of all the horror he has seen, both his faith in his fellow man and his faith in the Almighty have deserted him, and he can no longer honestly call himself a man of God. Merrin has traveled far from his native Holland in a desperate attempt to try to forget and escape all the evil that he had witnessed there. While currently in Cairo, Egypt, he is approached by a collector of rare antiquities and asked to participate in a British archeological excavation in the remote Turkana region of Kenya. They have unearthed something extraordinary and unusual…a Christian Byzantine church dating from the 5th century, long before Christianity arrived in East Africa, and in inexplicably perfect condition–like it had been buried immediately after it was completed. The collector wants Merrin, an Oxford-educated archeologist, to find an ancient relic hidden within the church before the British do. Interested, Merrin agrees to take the job. But beneath the church, something much older and malevolent sleeps, waiting to be awoken. When the archeologists start excavating, strange things begin occuring, and the local Turkana tribesmen who were hired to work refuse to enter the site. Things only get worse and worse, ultimately resulting in madness and death. Merrin watches helplessly as the atrocities of war are repeated against another innocent village–atrocities he had hoped and prayed never to see again. The blood of innocents flows freely on the East African plain, but the horror has only just begun. In the place where Evil was born, Merrin will finally see its true face.

Summary written by K Lange

I don’t think that Exorcist: The Beginning will have the same cultural or media impact as the original film. Written by William Peter Blatty and directed by William Friedkin, the film chronicled the story of Regan, a 12 year old girl possessed by a demon. When the film came out in 1973 It caused widespread hysteria. Reports of fainting, people being institutionalized, and at least one miscarriage. It grossed over $165M in the theatres in the US and $90M on video. This made it one of the most successful horror films of all time.

Don’t get me wrong Exorcist: The Beginning is a well-made film. It’s just that the first film is a very hard act to follow and times have moved-on. Perhaps we are just more jaded and difficult to shock as a society.

Exorcist: The Beginning remains true to the original in that it seeks to build a psychological tension rather than overwhelm us with flashy special effects:-

I wanted to make a film that you would actually believe led into The Exorcist,” says Renny Harlin. “So it’s not filled with fancy special effects and tricks of the trade today. It’s more of a primal horror film based on suspense and psychological terror, and our effects are more old-school in their approach”.

The film takes us back in time 25 years into Father Merrin’s past to the horrifying events that first turned him away from God, then ultimately led him down the path to becoming an exorcist. Harlin explains:

“In doing a prequel, I tried to set up a lot of those unanswered questions that are posed in the original. There are a lot of open plotlines that are never explained, including a comment about an exorcism that Merrin had performed years ago in Africa. I wanted to make it so that if you watch tis film and then watch The Exorcist, the original naturally follows, as if it were the sequel.”

I have only slight criticisms of the film. There is one scene where Merrin is trapped in a claustrophobic tunnel. I felt that this was rushed through and that more could have been made of it. The sense of being trapped could have been milked far more.

I also felt that more could have been made of the sexual temptation of the fallen priest. When the demon torments Merrin with his lust a flashing between the real face of the demon and the one possessed by it would have been effective in playing with our emotions of repulsion and attraction.

Yet despite these remarks Exorcist: The Beginning is well worth seeing and has avoided making any really bad mistakes. Its even managed to deliver some chilling moments with a clear plot that is in harmony with the original! No mean feat.


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