Movie Review by Dan Spiers
Starring: Stellan Skarsgård, Izabella Scorupco, James D’Arcy, Remy Sweeney, Julian Wadham
Director: Renny Harlin
The mythical curse of EXORCIST contributors continues. EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING killed off John Frankenheimer, dispensed with Paul Schrader and finally, in an act of willful self harm opted for Renny DIE HARD 2 Harlin. At no stage were the auspices for this movie good and the results are in keeping with an evidently discordant medley of pre-production.
We encounter Father Lankester Merrin (Stellan Skarsgård) skulking around the bars of 1949 Cairo, de-clothed and evidently unwashed. He has left the priesthood as a consequence of horrors witnessed during World War II and is earning a crust as a jobbing archaeologist.
Merrin is persuaded to go to British army controlled Turkana, Kenya and explore a recently unearthed Christian Byzantine church in inexplicably pristine condition. Upon arriving he finds townsfolk in fear of the church and an archaeological team bedeviled by skin sores and insanity. Somebody, it seems, is possessed by the devil. As inhabitants of the village are overcome by a wave of murderous relish, the narrative builds towards Merrin’s rediscovery of faith and the resultant and inevitable exorcism.
The self-proclaimed point of this prequel is to dovetail with THE EXORCIST and reveal the motivation behind Father Merrin in the 1973 classic. We are to discover what led him to his singularly peculiar choice of career, as an exorcist, hence contextualizing the original and lending greater weight to its narrative.
But there is no sense of insight here. EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING feels like a perfunctory depiction of another exorcism. And on seeing the result, one can only conclude that some exorcisms are more interesting than others. This is surprising for one would have expected that due to the nature of the act itself, what with exorcisms effectively bringing us face to face with the devil, they would be uniformly scary or at the very least gruesomely entertaining.
The problem with this particular exorcism is that it is merely a diluted form of that seen in the original. The possessed individual moves a little like Regan (the possessed individual in THE EXORCIST) and, indeed, for a split second speaks with the same foul mouth. Frankly though, rather like the work of the director and that of the actors, the devil’s work is disappointing. He is unconvincing and his performance halfhearted. At one stage he appears to be subdued by an Eskimo greeting, followed by a cuddle. Satan, like everyone else involved, needs to do some serious soul searching.