Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) – Film

Exorcist: The Beginning”

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Day 4 of the 2023 31-Days of Horror

This prequel to The Exorcist, set in 1949, recounts Father Merrin’s first encounter with Pazuzu in Africa, largely explaining the entire opening scene of that original movie. At a period in his life when Fr. Merrin has left the church and the priesthood and simply wants to be an archeologist, he is hired to excavate a mysterious find in Africa.

First time watch, again. I’d not even bothered to see a trailer for it. The opening scene of the Exorcist/Priest walking around a battleground filled with dead combatants left me kind of meh, but when I saw that it was directed by Renny Harlin and that Stellan Skarsgard, James D’Arcy, and David Bradley were cast, I actually became hopeful. Sigh.

It’s beautifully filmed, with gorgeous sets and locations, as one would expect from a Renny Harlin film. There’s an abundance of violence and gore, which is nice, but most of it is not really necessary to the story. Which, apparently, is also the source of the drama surrounding the film. But I’m focusing on this film and not Dominion or how or why the studio released essentially 2 versions of the same movie a year apart.

So we have a young Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard), who has entirely lost his faith during this period of his life, at this archeological dig of a buried church in Derati Valley, Africa that everyone claims they have no idea who built it or buried it, but the villagers refuse to go into because it’s evil. With him, the Vatican sends Father Francis (James D’Arcy) who has a much smaller role than his higher billing indicated, and who knows much more about the dig than he initially tells Merrin. Then we have Chuma (Andrew French), the well educated African guide who knows what is happening to the village and villagers, but tries to shield Merrin from it. Finally, there is Sara (Izabella Scorupco), the village doctor, who we don’t find out until later, is actually the wife of the lead archeologist, who “went crazy” three weeks prior and was taken to a psychiatric hospital in Nairobi, and the young boy, Joseph (Remy Sweeney) who the villagers believe is possessed. Oh, I almost forgot, the one brief scene that David Bradley was in a Fr. Gionetti, such a waste of his talent.

Also, Holy Child Peril, Batman! The scene where the hyenas eat the young boy alive, in front of his younger brother, would be horribly graphic if the character were an adult. The fact that it was a child, and he kept screaming and crying throughout, even as the hyenas carry him off, is stomach churning and horrifying on a level that is genetically programmed into all parents. The graphic scene of the still birth of the maggot covered child, then the attempted sacrifice of the young boy Joseph. And that’s not including Merrin’s flashback scenes of the little girl.

I don’t mind this movie. It is definitely more of an action/horror with religious themes than the psychological and religiously traumatizing feast that was the original, or even, to some extent, that was the third installment.

I’m giving it 2 1/2 glasses of dark red wine.


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