WARNER BROS. PICTURES (2004)

Director: Renny Harlin

Starring: Stellan Skarsgård, Izabella Scorupco, James D’Arcy, Ralph Brown, Alan Ford

Initially produced as Dominion and directed by Paul Schrader (before the studio binned it), Exorcist: The Beginning grew from that movie, took elements and actors from it, and was then reshot almost entirely with a new screenplay - what began as a troubled production pretty much ended up as one also.

 

The general story beats are good – a Church has been found buried in a non-Christian area and it is potentially the spot that Lucifer fell after the battle of Heaven (yes, how does a non-entity have a physical landing area? But it sounds cool), strange things happen and a tortured ex-priest is tasked with investigating. Sounds pretty good to me. The execution of the story, on the other hand, was not handled well.

Relying more on shock value and a scare every other scene, the movie loses its pacing early on as story is replaced by scares/atmosphere, and then spliced back into different story strands again. What could have been a creepy film became a clear example of a studio attempting it’s hardest to jolt viewers wherever possible – where The Exorcist succeeded spectacularly, The Beginning falters. What makes this worse? The CGI is appalling. The hyenas in this movie are possibly the worst examples of CGI I’ve seen – attempting to create a brutal scene with pretty much cartoon characters immediately destroys the effect of the scene, one that should have been vicious. Some of the CGI in the final act is poorly created and just removed me from the experience I should have felt. The final act tried it’s hardest to recreate a chilling exorcism, but just didn’t have the momentum behind it – though it did contain some creepy moments (the old crawling through a dark tunnel cliche?)

 

I did like the recreation of the village, and the locations throughout. They looked good and felt like part of the era the film was based in. The church interior was creepy with the dust attacking any light source, the blistering silence, the imagery within and the underground passages – that worked. Though mired by heavy CGI, the movie’s opening was also an effective scene as a lone priest wander a battlefield strewn with thousands of corpses and inverted crosses galore.

 

Stellan Skarsgård does a fine job as Father Merrin, especially given the material he had to work with. He captured the essence of Max von Sydow’s original performance and bought a steel and quality to each scene he appeared in. The likeness to von Sydow is also fantastic, and his performance was the saving grace of the movie. The rest of the cast were just…there really. Scorupco added the glamour to the movie and had good on-screen chemistry with Skarsgård. Alan Ford, however, may win the award for most ridiculous miscasting for a long time, his performance as Brick..sorry, Jefferies was madly out of touch with the rest of the movie.

 

What should have been a key telling of the events leading up to the original movie turned into a shock-fest aimed at recreating the same chaotic emotions as The Exorcist, which it really didn’t need to be (Dominion took this approach and was more of a spiritual affair). What should have been a creepy, cohesive story turned out otherwise, and had it not been for Skarsgård’s performance, then this movie would’ve been unsalvageable. There are some cool moments throughout and some good lines (Merrin’s final line is a great closer) however a few good moments does not a good movie make.

 

As the Nazi officer taunted Merrin with “God is not here today”, I think the same could be levelled at the screenwriters efforts as they furrowed away to write this story.

 

A big disappointment.

November 20th 2016

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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