With those magical words, ‘cashing in’ – music to a studio exec’s ears – The Exorcist syndicate is back. After squeezing the idea dry with sequels Exorcist II: The Heretic and Exorcist III, the Warner Bros studio bosses have come up with a new tactic: the prequel. After all, it is very ‘now’ – isn’t it George Lucas?
Exorcist: The Beginning commences in post WWII Kenya. Father Merrin (Stellan Skarsgrd), played in the original by Max Von Sydow, has lost his faith and is working as an Indiana Jones lookalike archaeologist sent to investigate an ancient, buried church. Cue strange goings-on, the inevitable discovery of the demon Pazuzu (who gave Regan in the original film her temporary personality transplant and tasty complexion), the ensuing possession and subsequent exorcism.
Sound familiar? Well, it is aiming to explore the original’s African opening, for many fans, a puzzling part of the cult classic so making a film to explain it could therefore almost be forgiven. Almost.
The film starts off well but soon plummets head first into clich with rattling beds, blackouts, blah, blah, blah… all of which provoke as much horror as a luke warm hot water bottle. CGI is used excessively in an attempt to scare, but fails. A CGI pack of demonic hyenas tearing a boy limb from limb is no scarier than a litter of slobbering, wide-eyed puppies. Obviously, they’ve never heard of the expression ‘less is more’. In fact, towards the end, the ‘horror’ becomes laughable, especially the demonic dialogue which will have you in stitches.
The only real element of fear arising from Exorcist: The Beginning is the knowledge that a second prequel exists directed by Paul Schrader (American Gigolo). With Schrader’s version done and dusted, the studio fired him, decreeing that the film was not gory enough. So, Renny Harlin was hired and re-shot almost 90% of the film. Considering the lack of scares in Harlin’s version, the mind boggles as to how bad Schrader’s was. With the rumour mill hinting Schrader’s is to be released in the future on DVD, we’ll be able to see for ourselves. Oh joy.
The only good thing about this film is Stellan Skarsgrd, who convincingly plays Father Merrin as he battles with his loss of faith as a subsequent result of WWII atrocities. These are shown in flashbacks reminiscent of Schindler’s List, even down to the little skipping girl, though minus the red coat. The other actors are by no means as good, often looking remarkably out of place. Ahem – Alan Ford from Snatch and Izabella Scorupco from Goldeneye.
Exorcist: The Beginning is not good. On the bad horror-o-meter it ranks almost as high as Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows. Yes, it’s that bad. You have been warned.