The Exorcist: The Beginning
- Film Worth:$11.00
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The Exorcist: The Beginning has the kind of production backstory that could fill a book....
The Exorcist: The Beginning has the kind of production backstory that could fill a book. In a strange move, the studio had decided to revive this seemingly moribund horror franchise, which had kicked off in scorching, soul-scarring fashion in 1973 with William Friedkin's The Exorcist, one of the most terrifying films ever made, before tipping into absurdity with John Boorman's self indulgent mess The Exorcist II: The Heretic in 1977, and then petering out with the little seen, but surprisingly effective, The Exorcist III, which was actually scripted and directed by novelist William Peter Blatty, who wrote the book that started it all.
For this new entry, the studio picked Paul Schrader (who wrote Taxi Driver and directed the likes of Blue Collar and Auto Focus) as their go-to man. Not surprisingly, Schraeder - a highly intellectual and considered filmmaker - turned in a cut that was deemed not scary or gory enough, and that delved too deeply into the series' spiritual subtexts. Schrader's version was shelved, and in stepped Renny Harlin, the director of Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger and Deep Blue Sea, to provide the gore and the scares.
And while Harlin does exactly that - children are ripped apart by hyenas, crows pick out people's eyes, a CGI battlefield is littered with literally thousands of mutilated corpses - he also delivers a surprisingly intelligent and involving horror film. The film recounts the early days of Father Merrin, the priest who performed the exorcism on Linda Blair in the original 1973 film. Played with quiet dignity in that film by Max Von Sydow, in The Exorcist: The Beginning, Merrin (here played by Stellan Skarsgard) is a bitter archeologist who has denounced the church and abandoned his priesthood after the horrors of WW2. Brought in to investigate a newly discovered church that has been buried for thousands of years and seemingly predates Christianity, Merrin finds something truly horrifying: ground zero for the birth of evil.
While filled with typical Renny Harlin-inspired sound and fury, and lashings of excess, The Exorcist: The Beginning also channels some of the soul sickness and desperation of the original, and rumbles with a real sense of fear and dread, while also anchoring itself with believable, sympathetic characters. It's that true rarity: a horror film with substance. Maybe Paul Schrader's version would have been too much to handle?