Plot: Long before he met a girl named Regan, Father Merrin (Skarsgård) had lost his faith. But his doubts were to be put to the test in 1912, when he was asked to find a lost demon relic at an heretofore unknown church that had been discovered in Africa.
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- ...a great plot and a good performance by Stellan Skarsgard are ultimately ill-used in this prequel to one of the most famous horror movies of all time.
Said by most to be the scariest film ever, The Exorcist (1973) chilled audiences when it first theaters. Sadly however, it’s two sequels didn’t, and came off as incredible disappointments. Now, Exorcist: The Beginning has emerged, showcasing a younger Father Merrin in his first encounter with ultimate evil. Of course, I had to check it out – as any fan of the original would want to. But, is a prequel needed to the scariest film of all time, or is this just another example of Hollywood trying to milk a cash cow?
Stellan Skarsgard, while a surprising choice for the role of young Father Merrin, does a good job convincing audiences he is who he says he is. He’s able to provide a good performance, while at the same time causing people to associate him with the elder version of the character they already know. He’s always been a good actor, but has usually been overlooked in most of the films he’s been in (the teacher in Good Will Hunting, on board K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), etc.). Now is his chance to show he’s capable of bigger roles, and he seems to know it, as he goes after this character with quiet gusto. Definitely a good performance by Stellan, and hopefully it will lead to bigger and better roles in his future.
The other characters (with the exception of the Evil) all tend to mingle together, with no real standouts. Everyone is background noise save for Stellan and the Evil (yes, with a capital E). It’s unfortunate, but it seems that was what Exorcist: The Beginning was aiming for. After all, nobody knows anything about any of these other characters anyway, right? The viewer only knows about Father Merrin and Evil – that’s it. Apparently the other actors are there just to provide a backdrop for this first exorcism.
The Evil character in Exorcist: The Beginning (who I won’t name) does a decent job, but doesn’t really show the viewers anything new. We’ve already seen this a hundred times (the first being with Linda Blair as Regan in The Exorcist (1973)), and it’s getting a little boring by now. The actor doesn’t contribute anything major to the role, rather just becoming the body for the special effects to act on.
The plot is interesting to begin with, but then degenerates into the same path the viewers have seen a hundred times already. A mysterious church uncovered on the site of a massive graveyard and a work crew overcome with mysterious problems – such a good start. Throw in the rumor that this may be the site at which Lucifer fell, and you’ve got all sorts of religious overtones tossed in for good measure – and a huge expectation of the Evil you’re going to witness.
With all that build-up, the viewer will be waiting expectantly for the epic battle that will ensue – but that never happens. Instead, they revert (again) to the one-on-one battle between Father Merrin and one possessed person. Maybe they didn’t want to go overboard too much, since he later has so many problems with Regan, but they shouldn’t have set up all of that if they weren’t going to follow through on it. Because of that, the ending is rather disappointing in some regards.
The special effects are well done, but again, Exorcist: The Beginning has nothing the viewer hasn’t seen numerous times before. The possessed one shows so many similarities to Regan you occasionally wonder if it’s the same scenes, but then you realize the background is different. True, that does help this film tie in neatly with the original (after all, the same Evil possesses both), but it dampens the viewer’s enthusiasm if they are just re-viewing the same things they’ve already seen.
Exorcist: The Beginning basically retells the story from the original, but in a different setting – and that’s about the only new thing it brings to the table. It does provide good insight into how Father Merrin first lost his faith, and it would have been a much better film if that had been it’s main focus. Instead, it went with another possession, and regurgitated scenes from it’s predecessors.
A great plot and a good performance by Stellan are ultimately ill-used by Exorcist: The Beginning, a prequel to the most famous horror movie of all time. If you are in the mood for a good religious horror movie, check out End of Days (1999) or Stigmata instead.