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Exorcist: The Beginning

Evil Not for the Faint of Heart

As if The Exorcist wasn't scary enough, as if it hadn't screwed up generations upon generations of viewers, now there's finally a movie that explores old Father Lankester Merrin's life before we met him as a shriveled up priest with asthmatic problems and a flair for performing gnarly exorcisms. Exorcist: The Beginning is quite frightening if you've seen the first film (particularly if you were little and scared out of your wits), and pretty funny if you haven't seen any of the movies. I was cringing in fear rather chuckling at the absurdity of it all.

Stellan Skarsgard plays Father Merrin, a former priest who resigns from his position after witnessing and living through Nazi atrocities committed in his homeland of Holland, then goes to Oxford to study archeology (?), and ends up where every archeologist in the history of film has ever ended up: Egypt. Needless to say, his faith in humanity and God is seriously shaken. Which is a bad thing when you're about to do battle against Mr. Satan himself, the big daddy of badness.

After being 'asked' to join a British-led archeological dig in the remote Turkana region of Kenya by a mysterious antiques dealer (in a strange cameo role by Ben Cross that seemed to be slapped onto the end of the film), Merrin finds that perhaps it might be best that he carry around a bottle of holy water after all. The focus of the dig is an unearthed Christian Byzantine church dating back to the 5th century in startlingly pristine condition. When eerie and all-around horrible things begin to happen to the local villagers and those involved with the dig, Merrin quickly realizes that supernatural forces may be involved.

Exorcist: The Beginning is about how Father Merrin retains his faith and reveals the origins of the very demon whom possessed Regan in the first Exorcist. The acting is well above your average horror movie fare and the slow, controlled direction by Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger, Die Hard 2) creates high levels of spookiness. The plot, especially if you haven't seen the previous films, can seem contrived and contains oodles of scenes in which the protagonists wander inexplicably towards dangerous, dark places instead of running away in the exact opposite direction like any other person with any kind of sense would do. Although the acting is above par, the chemistry in the scenes with Merrin and the lovely, young doctor in the village (and seemingly only single female), Sarah (Izabella Scorupco), was awkward and overdone.

Now all those random flashbacks to Africa in the original (still the best and scariest of the films) and its sequel, Exorcist II: The Heretic, make sense. I can breathe a sigh of relief knowing the exact origins of some insane demon. Great, just great.

Stars: 3 out of 5