Exorcist (1973) is considered as one of the scariest films of all time, judging by the audience’s reaction and the effect it was able to the create, thus earning the cult status. But there were many unanswered questions in the exorcist, mostly about the origins of Fr Lankaster Merrin, thus the need for the prequel. Two versions were released; exorcist the beginning and Dominion: prequel to the exorcist, but both of them turned out to be box office bombs. Critics have been harsh, Roger Ebert preferred the latter version and William Peter Blatty, author of the exorcist claimed that “watching this movie (exorcist the beginning) was the most humiliating professional experience“. Is this movie a ludicrous experience to watch? The answer (my personal opinion) is yes, if you compare this movie with the exorcist. But, exorcist the beginning is anyday better than sequels to the original, in terms of the theme, story depth and trepidation.
Lankester Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard) is a renowned archaeologist who lost his faith after witnessing several atrocities committed by the Nazis. He is approached by Semelier (Ben Cross), a collector of antiquities, and is asked to go to the valley named Derati in Kenya to college an artifact from the church discovered there. This engrosses Merrin as the church was built over 1000 years before the arrival of Christianity in that valley. He goes to the village with Fr Francis (James D’Arcy) under the guidance of the interpreter Chuma (Andrew French) to discover more secrets and the hidden evil, which had been haunting the place. He meets the doctor Sarah (Izabella Scorupco) who treats the boy named Joseph (Remy Sweeney) whose circumstances have been unnatural.
We get to know more details, investigated and discovered by Merrin, including a minor twist regarding Lucifer’s fall after the war in heaven. That detail intrigued me a lot. Basically, film watching should be devoid of all the negativity if it wasn’t for the major faults and plotholes that are notable. The biggest issue is when the movie is compared with the exorcist, the direction. The original is a classy film with intense performances, better characters and intriguing sequences. William Friedkin added several key moments making it a memorable spine chilling experience, at the same time we care for the charcters. We care for Regan who is being harassed and tortured by the demon, for Karras for his self deprecating nature, Chris McNeil and even Sharon who has less screen time, and this movie lacked all that. We hardly have time to notice what is actually going on. At point, tribe was going to kill Joseph and I was in an “I don’t care mode“. The only person we care ends up dead, seemingly Merrin’s have gone in waste. There were many sequences that were overdone, like the scene where Joseph brother was torn apart by the hyenas. First of all, the CGI and effects used in that scene were obvious, and was it necessary to show the murder of a 13-year-old boy in that gory detail? I liked the story ark behind Fr Merrin’s days in Nazi occupied Netherlands, but the sequences were shown more than necessary affecting the overall flow of the story.
As per the story line, the Vatican already knew about the evil presence and the reason why the church was built and Fr Francis was send to validate the truth regarding Lucifer’s legend. If that is the case then how come the Vatican didn’t send experienced priests to the site instead of sending someone who lost his faith and a young priest?
The movie also presented a twist at the end, the devil…or demon… was residing in another individual, which was not revealed until the end (not revealing who here). That was a good twist and there were clues and buildup. But after witnessing how and what happened to Regan in exorcist, it is literally impossible that the appearance and actions, of the demon, were kept hidden from 2 men of cloth. And, at the end of the film, Merrin fails to save the life of this person after undergoing the exorcism process where he strives hard. This raises the question, was he just bothered about driving the demon out of the body and not worried about the life of the possessed individual? If latter is the case then why did he have to go through the dangerous situation? Why not just shoot that person or let the Turkana kill? Of course, the writers have to be blamed here.
Stellan Skarsgard carried out his role vibrantly and he tried to imitate Max Von Sydow’s version as much as he could. The suspense elements worked better because of his performance. Izabella Scorupco is adorable and expressive in her role, making Sarah good-natured yet complicated. Skargard and Scorupco lacked chemistry and the affair part was unnecessary, too many things were happening at once. James D’Arcy looked out of place initially, but he was able to catch up by the second half. He performed agreeably in the scene where he narrated the story to Merrin and Sarah. Andrew French, Alan Ford and Julian Wedham had lively presence but their characters lacked enough spark to have the appeal.
The beginning of the film is shot adeptly and the cinematography and effects created the eeriness. We see a priest in the middle of a war ground looking at the defiled corpses. He finds the head of Pazuzu demon but is stopped by one of the dead soldiers, there is where the upside crosses with people tied to it were revealed. The theme of the film is interesting, the film introduced an element of suspense with an addition of a story ark after every 15 minutes. The scary scenes were predictable but the usage of less light and settings delivered a chilling experience, but these scene will look less effective when you watch it the second time, which need not be the case of a horror movie. The warm tone and the settings worked for the bizarre feel of the environment depicted.Trevor Rabin’s music haunting, creepy and controlled within the scene. But the lighting was artificial. The scenes inside the cave had only one source of light onscreen, that is Merrin’s lantern, but the scenes looked bright where three point lights were in most shots raising the question, where did it come from? Technically, the makeup, CGI and effects were obvious and the final exorcism looked cheesy in that way.
In spite of the all the flaws it was a good effort from Harlin and team. Only good, as there were scope for improvement in terms of direction and structuring. I enjoyed watching this film but the ending was too disappointing. It looked like Merrin’s efforts were all for nothing. Fans of horror will enjoy this movie but the fans of the exorcist will end of despising it, therefore all the negative remarks from the critics.
Featured image: presto.com.au