Exorcist: The Beginning

Exorcist: The Beginning, 2004, 1 ¾ stars

Exercise the option to stay at home

From OrlandoCityBeat.com, August 20, 2004

When making a prequel to the scariest movie ever, you cannot simply copy the style that made it terrifying – you must understand it. And although Exorcist: The Beginning effectively recreates the dynamic Father Merrin from the original masterpiece and contains a good level of creepiness, it fails at the one thing the William Friedkin classic did best, making the unbelievable believable.

This latest installment in the paranormal series, the fourth if you don’t count the recent promotional gimmick of The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen,  takes us back to 1947. It is roughly 25 years before the original, and Lankester Merrin is a young, disillusioned archeologist and ex-priest in Egypt. He’s summoned to Kenya where a dig has uncovered a mysterious 1500-year-old Christian church, mysterious because of the rumors of evil spirits and the fact that the religion had not spread that far by that time.

Merrin slowly discovers the outlandish truth behind the disappearances and demonic possessions of not only some archeologists working on the project but the villagers too. The plot does have some twists to keep it interesting, and director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, The Long Kiss Goodnight), is competent at horror film gimmicks. However, the movie is just too long, drawn out and over the top to be taken seriously, even though Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting, King Arthur) does quite well with the seemingly impossible task of following Max Von Sydow as Merrin.

The supporting cast, led by Izabella Scorupco (Vertical Limit) as Merrin’s friend and the doctor of a supposedly possessed child, is compelling and keeps the film moving, despite slow pacing. But when the story is developed by an action movie writer and the screenplay composed by someone with no major credits, a clever suspense film will not be the end product. Some of the feeling and symbolism of the original is captured, but you never identify with the characters or feel their fright the way William Peter Blatty  made you.

Great thrillers know when to use humor and in what doses to add a touch of playfulness without diluting the terror. Psycho did it with lines like “my mother isn’t quite herself today,” and the original Exorcist even got away with it briefly in the scenes of a possessed Linda Blair. However, when you repeatedly chuckle at the image that should be the film’s most terrifying, the humor has crossed the line and ruined the suspense.

The prequel also misuses its sexual moments, not necessarily in the subtle romantic tension between Merrin and Scorupco’s character, but in its portrayal of sex as a tool of the devil. When Friedkin’s film used sexual words and images, it was always decadent and repulsive, of course helped by the fact that the victim of possession was a young girl. Harlin also tries to include a sexual element in the demon’s personality, but the scenes come across not as demonic or disgusting, but, well, sexy.

Harlin may have come closer than many recent filmmakers in capturing the ambience of the Exorcist, but, ultimately, he only shows that it’s time for directors to stop trying to top the original. Not even the power of Christ should compel you to see this film.

© 2004 OrlandoCityBeat.com / MeierMovies, LLC

For more information on this movie, visit IMDB and Wikipedia.