The Exorcist: The Beginning
Stellan Skarsgård, Izabella Scorupco, James D’Arcy, Remy Sweeney, Julian Wadham, Andrew French, Ralph Brown, Ben Cross, David Bradley
R (For strong violence and gore, disturbing images and rituals, and for language including some sexual dialogue)
Darkness fills a church long buried as an archaeologist whose faith has been destroyed seeks an ancient artifact from its bowels. The Exorcist: The Beginning takes the audience on a horrific journey through demonic possession and emotional tragedy as it sets up the story for the original 1973 film.
Believed to be the spot where Lucifer fell from haven, the 1500-year-old Christian church has fallen out of general knowledge, hidden underneath piles of sand. Lancaster Merrin (Stellan Skarsgrd), an archaeologist and former Catholic priest, is hired to seek out a mysterious idol hidden somewhere beneath the massive out-of-place house of worship.
The puzzle of the film is who built the church and why. We slowly discover its origins as The Beginning attempts to persuade its audience that an ancient evil has been uncovered and a little African boy has been possessed by the demon. We watch as a hyena pack rips the little boy’s brother apart completely ignoring the child.
When William Friedkin’s The Exorcist debuted 29 years ago, viewers found a movie that featured a devil-possessed little girl named Regan. Her foul mouth and pea-soup expulsions caused people great discomfort as few had seen something so graphic and so terrifying.
There are scenes of immense gore and blood that make the film feel more like a reject 80s horror film than a prequel to one of cinema’s classic horror films. The Exorcist: The Beginning holds no candle to the William Friedkin classic. Much of this is due to the pathetic direction of Cutthroat Island helmer Renny Harlin. His skill has never been proven and here, with effects that make the original look state-of-the-art, we see a film that is trapped in empty suspense and faulty terror.
Alexi Hawley’s screenplay isn’t short of blame. Horror clichs abound as the electricity mysteriously goes out in one scene, a bed scoots out suddenly from the wall in another and varied other weak and uninspired attempted spooks. The premise has a certain resonance, but even the Holocaust scenes feel unnecessary.
The performances are way below the level of the original. The Exorcist had the supremely talented Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller and Linda Blair. The Beginning has Skarsgrd, Izabella Scorupco (who plays Merrin’s potential love interest), James D’Arcy (the young priest) and Remy Sweeney (the little boy Joseph). Apples to apples, Skarsgrd is the only performer who holds a candle to the original. Not only does he bear a striking resemblance to Sydow, he also gives the film his every effort, despite its dreadful execution.
Scorupco is decent up until the end where even the most recalcitrant filmgoer can’t be persuaded she’s real. Sweeney does as well as he can, but his talent isn’t as apparent as Blair’s was. D’Arcy gives no more credibility to his character than Scorupco does to hers. He is weak, timid and perhaps a little under used.
Audiences will jump at times as the score does emote a sense of dread. However, even the music fails to live up to expectations as only once do we hear parts of the familiar refrain of The Exorcist.
The only truly scary thing about the picture is that I wasted money to watch it.
August 26, 2004