Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)
Director: Renny Harlin
Stellan Skarsgard/Father Merrin
James D’Arcy/Father Francis
This prequel to the genre staple that is 1973’s “The Exorcist”, finds Father “Tequila Killer” Merrin (Skarsgard) coming inebriated-face to inebriated-face with Belzebubba in an African cave that sports a “Satan motif”. Beds shake, CGI hyenas attack and unintentional laughter ensues...out of my freaking mouth! LOL! LOL! LOL!
WHAT AN OFF DAY FOR AN EXORCISM! "The Exorcist: The Beginning", a movie so bad they had to shoot it twice? I guess so! I heard that Morgan Creek (who should sell the “Exorcist” rights to another studio already) nixed Paul Schrader’s version of this film (see Bull's Eye section for more on that) because it was too "character-driven and dull", horror wise. Why am I not surprised that this second account by the champion of “wham-bam-thank-you- ma'am -- now pass me your daughter” Renny Harlin, wound up being the total opposite, but in a ham-fisted way?
It all started on the right stab (literally) with quite the striking display of macabre imagery (all I’ll say is…”massacre”). The flick set up its story in a gripping fashion and I was ready to rock and roll with the devil till the sun went down! Subsequently, Mothra-Boozer Stellan Skarsgard (Merrin) stepped up to the plate and I was transfixed to the screen by his magnetic presence and rugged ways of downing hard liquor like a man’s man who can out-drink all men’s men. I love this hombre to pieces! Sadly, after that, apart from Harlin’s random slick directing moves (the dude does have talent), gripping Nazis being Nazis flashbacks (ouch), impressive locations/sets and a surprisingly large amount of enjoyable (by me, anyways) gory goods, it was straight to ho-hum-ville for this fluff-stuff. What makes it an immense shame is that it was all there!
This movie could’ve been tight if the compelling enough substance and the good ideas would’ve been executed in a more fleshed out and focused manner. Merrin and his riveting plight aside, the characters were far too clumsily developed (where did Father Francis go…a tittie bar?), the chain of events was handled sloppily while the plot turns happened with zero momentum to back them up. And don’t get my weed-whacker started on the pathetic “Fisher Price” visual effects! What occurs if you slap some obvious CG beasties into a supposedly grounded mix? Think…think hard…THINK FOR THE LOVE OF NON-SILICONE BREASTS! EXACTLY! I laugh my ass off! Consequently, most of the disturbing scenes “on paper” were ruined here, which severely hurt the tone the flick was going for (but made it funny). The final gush of pea-soup urinated on this one’s smack-me-silly mug was its absurd third “Super Regan” block. It strived to echo Merrin’s encounter with Evil in the original film, but did it all wrong! It was big, flashy, action-movie like and imminently asinine. Was this "Spider-Man" or an Exorcist sequel? It didn’t work!
Generally, although "Exorcist: The Beginning" kept my attention, sported some effective moments (one twist took me aback) and a strong Skarsgard, I was rarely fully reeled in or frightened by it, no matter how hard it tried. BRING ON SCHRADER’S VERSION! IT CAN’T BE WORSE!
The river runs bona fide red in this one! We get multitude stabbings, faces being slashed, fingers broken backwards, a gruesome hung body, human crucifixions, vaginal blood, an eyeball being eaten by a bird, headshots galore, slit throats and yes…more! What a wet party!
Stellan Skarsgard (Father Merrin) gave an intense and appealing show! Too bad the film played against him. I have to buy this man a beer one day! Izabella Scorupco (Sarah) was competent enough and looked like that Vanilla Ice Cream Sundae I licked yesterday! Yum! James D’Arcy (Father Francis) bored me. Not his fault, not much of a part. Alan Ford (Jeffries) did well as the gross looking a-hole! I still don’t know why Ben Cross (Semelier) was in this movie…does he?
T & A
Izabella Scorupco showed off her cleavage and even had a shower scene! Too bad we didn’t get the cherries! The ladies get Stellan Skarsgard drinking the nectar of life.
I love Renny Harlin’s style and some of it hit home here, especially in terms of atmosphere (loved the cave scenes) or his use of slow motion and tilted angles. Unfortunately, the flick was just too polished for its own good. We needed more “grittiness”…the CG surely didn’t help either…
The score by Trevor Rabin fit the setting and time period adequately. Where was the token Exorcist theme song though? COME ON!
An Exorcist movie, this is not. A standard B-horror movie aiming for popcorn thrills with slapdash meat, lousy effects, a gratuitous shower scene and boo scares up the wazoo, it is. Although not as utterly terrible as "Exorcist 2: The Herecrapola", I often snickered like a CG hyena during this flick and I’m sure that wasn’t its intent. If the film had been carried out in a more “adult” manner (you know, like Exorcist 1 and 3), maybe I would’ve given two shits about it. The amazing Stellan Skarsgard was the only one doing a “serious” picture in this church! Having said that, I was somewhat entertained (yes, I feel guilty) throughout in a "so bad, it's hilarious" mode. Arrow Advice: see it on video with friends and The Captain (Morgan that is…not Howdy) in tow! Get ready to be possessed by laughter! The Power of Booze compels you!
This flick was plagued with huge snags along the way.
John Frankenheimer was signed to direct, but had to drop out due to health reasons. Not soon thereafter, he died.
Paul Schrader then came on board and shot the film. Morgan Creek (who also mishandled "Exorcist 3") fired him after seeing it-- not having liked it (weren't they watching the dailies throughout? Didn’t they read the script? Why wait till after post-production?)
Renny Harlin then came on board and re-shot 90 percent of the film with a mostly new cast (only Skarsgard remained) .
Alexi Hawley retooled Caleb Carr and William Fisher’s screenplay.
The good news is that Schrader’s version is supposed to be released at the same time as Harlin’s version when the DVD kicks in. We’ll see…I sure hope so!
Stellan Skarsgard replaced the initially cast Liam Neeson who dropped out due to scheduling conflicts.