Exorcist: The Beginning (15)
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Time Out saysThe original director of this ill-fated prequel to ‘The Exorcist’, John Frankenheimer, died before filming began; the version shot by his successor, Paul Schrader, was then shelved by its producers for not being scary enough; Harlin’s stab has at least made it to the screen. Was it worth it? Was it hell. For all its trainspotting references to William Friedkin’s 1973 original, this is cod-religious horror-by-numbers: ancient amulet, excavated church, resurrected evil, biblical myth, demonic possession, exorcism. Not even Stellan Skarsgård’s intense, credible portrayal of the young Lankester Merrin, a traumatised ex-priest turned drink-sodden archaeologist, can save this sorry mess.
Set in colonial east Africa in 1949, it ostensibly charts Merrin’s rediscovery of his faith. The uncovering of a Byzantine church also reveals a pagan site of human sacrifice hidden beneath. A diabolical evil is unleashed, driving Merrin’s predecessor mad, leaving local boy Joseph catatonic, and inciting a bloody insurrection by the frightened Turkana people. As Merrin and gutsy doctor Sarah (Izabella Scorupco) seek the source of this malevolent force, eager young priest Father Francis (James D’Arcy) wonders aloud: ‘Is the legend true? That after the war in heaven, this is the spot where Lucifer fell to earth.’
‘Die Hard 2’ helmer Harlin’s head-banging style and visceral images (crucifixions, evisceration and maggoty foetuses) are wildly at odds with his allegedly low-key psychological approach. Reams of tedious exposition finally give way to a random jumble of horror movie clichés, rising to a shrill pitch of hysteria that is never remotely frightening. Surely Schrader’s version (now slated for release on DVD in January 2005) must be better than this.