Exorcist: The Beginning Review

2 Stars (out of Five)

I know everyone's expecting a straight pan of this movie; to be honest i went in expecting to hate it, and to be sure, i was mostly correct. Exorcist: The Beginning, is in some ways every bit as bad as Exorcist 2: Heretic, and just as dumb as any other big budget horror movie of its ilk (by that i'm referring to such ditties as Lost Souls, Bless the Child, The Order, or any Omen movie that isn't the first one) The problem is that E:B could have been something good indeed.

To be fair, Beginning has some good things going for it. Stellan Skarsgard is excellent playing a younger Father Merrin, and since much of the movie rests on his shoulders, it is a relief they didn't cast Ryan Phillipe or Kerr Smith, who are much to young, and would've likely fallen hard with the rest of the movie. The rest of the cast either struggle to maintain some credibility, or simply fall into the abyss of over acting.

But let's get into why this movie is so bad. As many of you may know, the Exorcist prequel floated around for a while from director to director (John Frankenheimer was originally slated to direct, but left the project a month before his passing) when Paul Schrader, who wrote Taxi Driver and directed Auto Focus, came on board, he set out with the intention of making a psychological thriller instead of a bloodbath that producers wanted. He made his movie, and was promptly fired. In order to guarantee they'd have the film they were paying for, producers turned to Renny Harlin. (now, before i get into Harlin bashing, let me go ahead and say that A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Die Hard 2, and The Long Kiss Goodnight remain to this day on my list of guilty pleasures) Known for such gems as Deep Blue Sea, Cutthroat Island, and The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, naturally he was the obvious choice to continue the Exorcist series. Thusly, most of the film was reshot to include more graphic violence, include a love interest(?!) for Merrin, and the most ridiculous exorcism ever put on film. Rumour goes that about 20 minutes of the movie is still actually Schrader's, and to Harlin's credit, for the first hour and change I couldn't tell what belonged to who.

And therein lies the problem. The first three quarters of this movie is, with a few exceptions, pretty good. It is at least better than Heretic, and on par with The Exorcist 3 (and Legion isn't really that terrible as these types of movies go) There are a couple of suspensful moments, and while it is overly bloody, the mystery surrounding a church buried in East Africa is intriguing. However, things start to fall apart in the third act (specifically when the Sandstorm hits) and if you're not into spoilers, i'd go ahead and get out of here now, because we're veering that way. From this point out, this movie is a joke. Now, i need to take a moment out and discuss the truly horrendus CGI in this movie, because for the bulk of the film, you just try to tune it out (the Hyenas stand out in particular, because they ruin an otherwise well thought out sequence involving children in peril) but when the sandstorm rolls in, looking like b-roll footage from The Mummy Returns, you know things are in trouble. How bad does it get? Well, there's the British soldiers fighting with the Tribesmen in an unnecessarily brutal and pointless sequence, or perhaps the bait and switch bit on who is actually possessed, or perhaps the aforementioned exorcism, which takes place in the pagan temple beneath the church and culminates with the Captain Howdy (i won't spoil all of it for you) literally flying down a tunnel towards Merrin as he tries to cast out Satan. Seriously. Not only does it take all of the punch out of the actual exorcism in the first movie (were you to watch them chronologically) but it's laugh out loud stupid. But the coup de gras is actually the very ending, where they blow two key opportunities to make up for this slight. Merrin is back in Italy, renewed faith, etc, and the moment comes where he stands up from the table, puts on the hat everyone recognizes, and walks off towards the Vatica- oh wait! Remember those rotten effects i mentioned? Well, Father Merrin walks off into the Green Screen where a painfully fake looking picture of the Vatican is, and they don't even have the sense to play Tubular Bells. *sigh.

Perhaps Paul Schrader's cut (which is purported to be coming out on dvd) is the movie this franchise deserved, and we shall see. As it stands, Exorcist: Beginning is a painfully schizophrenic movie that isn't sure what it wants to be, and to me, it stinks.