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The Exorcist: The Beginning


The behind the scenes story of how 2004's THE EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING was made is sadly much more interesting than the film itself.

Paul Schrader and William Peter Blatty had created an Exorcist film steeped in religious history, challenging themes of faith as they wove an origin story for Father Lancaster Merrin.

The studio hated it so much they threw it in the trash and hired action director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger) to film a completely new version using the same sets and mostly new actors. Nearly the entire cast of Schrader's version refused to be part of this one, save the lead actor.

Let's just say Harlin left "smart" at the door and strands us with a much mess challenging story.

As in Schrader's version, Stellan Skarsgard plays a younger version of Merrin, who was portrayed by Max Von Sydow in William Friedkin's 1973 "The Exorcist".

Scarred by a horrific experience as a small town priest when Nazis invaded and began killing women and children in front of him, Merrin has lost his faith.

When an antiquities dealer played by Ben Cross (Chariots of Fire) hires him to find a lost relic in an ancient church that's just been unburied, a grumpy Merrin takes the job.

Exorcist fans will recognize the relic as the head of Pazuzu, the demon whose done a lot of damage in this film series.

Merrin is off to East Africa to see the church, which like the castle in Michael Mann's underrated film "The Keep" is built to keep something IN.

Izabella Scorupco (Goldeneye) is Sarah, the nurse at the site and a weak James D'Arcy (Dunkirk) plays Father Francis, a young priest on site to keep an eye on Merrin since he's lost his Priest calling cards.

There's a whole lot of evil happening around the dig site, but never anything very scary. A couple of creepy scenes play with our expectations, but there's not a frame of this movie that holds up to the terror in either the original film or the under seen and terrific second sequel "Exorcist III".

By throwing out the intelligent writing of Schrader and author Caleb Carr, Harlin is left with a pedestrian tale of good vs. evil that never lives up to the series potential.

Only in a visually stunning opening sequence, set well before the ancient church was built, does Harlin offer anything interesting to latch onto.

Skarsgard is a great actor and he carries the film on his back easily, as he did in Schrader's version that was finally released the following year as "Exorcist: Dominion". Unlike that film, he's reduced here to playing an evangelical Indiana Jones haunted by his past.

Schrader and William Peter Blatty, the author of the original novel, "The Exorcist" famously laughed so much during the premiere of this film that they were almost thrown out of the theater. I get it.

With a budget of $80 million, it only grossed $78 million worldwide, dropping quickly after word of mouth from opening weekend audiences spread like locusts.

But even that fate was better than audiences treatment of Schrader's film when it was released the following year. Arriving in theaters the same weekend as "Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith", it never had a chance, grossing less than $300k TOTAL against its $30m budget.

Dull, never scary and without any discernible style, EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING only possesses the power to bore, slogging its way to a D.





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