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August 31, 2004 > Exorcist: The Beginning

Exorcist: The Beginning

Rated R: for strong violence and gore, disturbing images and rituals, and for language including some sexual dialogue

by Susana Nuñez

What is by far the worst movie of the summer, if not the year, Exorcist: The Beginning has topped its predecessors in lack of quality. Not all is lost, however, since the film has proven to be an innovative cure for insomnia. The effects kick in almost immediately and soon the viewer is off into dreamland, a far better option than watching the achingly dull two-hour film. Sadly, the prequel Exorcist: The Beginning does not live up to the unnerving 1973 original Exorcist.

In the years following World War II, Father Lankester Merrin (Stellan SkarsgŒrd) is haunted by memories of the brutality against the innocent people of his parish. His faith in his fellow man and the Almighty has deserted him and his days as a man of God are over. In an attempt to escape the horrors he witnessed in Holland, he travels away from his native land. Making his way across Cairo, he is asked to join a British archeological investigation in the remote Turkana region of Kenya. A Christian Byzantine church in impeccable condition has been unearthed, as if it had been buried the day it was completed. Father Merrin, an Oxford-educated archeologist, is asked to unearth an ancient relic hidden within the church.

Director Renny Harlin, best known for his hit action films such as Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger, took on the challenge of creating a new chapter in the Exorcist legend. "We chose to tell the story of Father Merrin as a young priest," he states, "and learn how he first came into contact with the demon. The central story of this movie is really Merrin's struggle to find his faith again." Harlin chose Stellan Skarsgärd to play the disillusioned priest since he believes there is a natural connection between Skarsgärd and Max Von Sydow, who played Father Merrin in the original Exorcist. Skarsgärd did an excellent job in the film as Father Merrin, but not even his acting skills would save him from the horrors of the film.

Harlin claims that the film is "not filled with fancy special effects and tricks of the trade of today. It's more of a primal horror film based on suspense and psychological terror, and our effects are more old-school in their approach than something you can obviously tell came from a computer." Wrong. Beware of CGI in the most unnecessary scenes. The special effects are obvious and do nothing to add to the horror-quality of the film. The film's attempt to utilize computer imagery to frighten audiences will make them laugh, not scream. What the film crew did successfully accomplish, however, was producing incredible sets with an authentic feel. Although the movie was filmed entirely at the Cinecitté Studios in Rome, the crew created sets of various sites in Holland, Africa, and Cairo.

The scenery in the film appears flawless, but the quality of the film overall is not. The story drags on and teases audiences, with no real action occurring until the final 15-20 minutes of the film. The story builds up and leaves audiences unsatisfied and feeling ripped off.

Bottom line, if you're interested in the story of Father Merrin's life, this movie will satisfy your craving. But if you want to watch a true horror film, Exorcist: The Beginning is definitely not for you. Note to any directors who feel they should add their personal touch to the Exorcist: remember, if it isn't broken, don't fix it.

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