out of Five
Running time: 114
Laughably poor prequel that is dumb, nonsensical and not remotely scary – however, it remains watchable thanks to Stellan Skarsgard.
Exorcist: The Beginning has had a troubled history, to say the least. The film had been made by director Paul Schrader, but The Suits at Warner Brothers allegedly decided that his cut just wasn’t scary enough and booted him off the project; the entire film was then reshot by Finnish action director Renny Harlin.
We may never find out whether or not Harlin’s cut is scarier than Schrader’s, but the unfortunate result is a confused mish-mash of horror movie clichés, cheap shocks and crappy-looking CGI. Fans of the original, then, are set to be disappointed but it’s surprisingly watchable if you treat it as a good ‘Bad Movie’.
Faithless Priest Attempts To Drink Self To Death
The film is set in 1949. Stellan Skarsgard plays Father Lankester Merrin, the character played by Max Von Sydow in the original film. Having witnessed human evil in the shape of the Nazis, Merrin has abandoned his faith and is currently drinking himself to death in Cairo.
However, he’s approached by one of those shadowy religious types and asked to use his archaeological skillz in order to retrieve an ancient artefact from a desert excavation in Kenya, before the pesky Brits can get their hands on it. (There’s a huge amount of Brit-bashing in this film).
Once he arrives, Merrin discovers a) that the dig has unearthed a Christian Byzantine church in perfect condition and b) that there’s something EEEEEVIL in it. He also hooks up with idealistic younger priest Father Francis (James D’Arcy), hot camp doctor Sarah Novak (Izabella Scorupco – she was a Bond girl, you know), alcoholic lecherous cockney sleaze-bag Jeffries (Alan Ford) and a young black child named Joseph (Remy Sweeney), each of whom seems a ripe candidate for a spot of possession…
So Much Wrong
There’s so much wrong with Exorcist: The Beginning that it’s hard to know where to start. For one thing, the script is utterly nonsensical, with scenes that contradict each other and whole sequences that have clearly been shoe-horned in to up the supposed “shock” count – for instance, Doctor Sarah, fresh from her entirely gratuitous shower scene, following something spooky around the hospital before inexplicably bleeding for a bit.
In addition, Harlin relies too much on dodgy CGI for his shock effects; you can pretty much pinpoint the moment the film starts to go downhill from the moment the CGI Hyenas attack. Also, someone really ought to have told him that dead butterflies “suddenly” flapping their wings just aren’t all that scary and certainly don’t constitute a reason for suicide. That said, there are one or two memorably nasty images, such as a newborn baby infested with maggots and Jeffries’ pus-gouting face.
The acting isn’t actually too bad. Skarsgard in particular is excellent, lending the entire film a gravitas that it simply doesn’t deserve – he’s the reason the film gets its second star. However, even Skarsgard can’t quite make up for the sheer stupidity of the climax and some of the dialogue is so hilarious that it’s destined to be repeated in pubs everywhere.
In short, the only real fun to be had in Exorcist: The Beginning is in a) laughing at it and b) counting the number of superior horror movies it attempts to rip off. Fans of the original are advised to steer well clear, then, but it’s watchable enough if you don’t take it too seriously.