Yes, the Exorcist imprint will draw enough young males for a solid opening week. Once word gets out that this movie makes Alien vs. Predator look like a classic, boxoffice could drop 50% or more.
The scariest thing about this film is how desperate the makers are to earn a scream. Clearly lacking confidence in a prosaic premise, director Renny Harlin and writers Alexi Hawley, William Wisher Jr. and Caleb Carr try out just about every gag they can think of: From a meaningless opening sequence featuring severed limbs and upside-down crucifixes on a battlefield, the movie indulges in facial boils, blood-sucking leeches, maggots on a stillborn baby, squirting blood, buzzing flies, two suicides, a bird plucking out a human eye and mad hyenas tearing apart of small boy. And when all else fails, they throw in a shower scene and sandstorm.
This was the film that found Morgan Creek making two versions. Paul Schrader shot and finished an edit of his The Beginning in May 2003. When Morgan Creek topper James Robinson rejected this film, Schrader departed and Harlin was brought aboard. Reportedly, little if anything from Schrader's version appears in Harlin's film.
Like the lamentable John Boorman film Exorcist II: The Heretic, this film too rolls back the clock to investigate the first confrontation between Father Merrin, the aging exorcist in the original film, and the devil in British colonial Africa, an incident alluded to in Friedkin's film and Blatty's best-selling novel. Stellan Skarsgard, who, remarkably, stars in both Schrader and Harlin's movies, plays Merrin as a disillusioned ex-priest, drifting through Cairo in 1949 in an alcoholic haze. A mysterious antiquities collector (Ben Cross) approaches him about joining an archaeological dig in a remote region in Kenya, where British authorities have discovered a buried Christian Byzantine church in a place where no church from that era should exist.
Merrin arrives at the site to learn people are disappearing, wild hyenas circle the compound and villagers believe an evil force lurks within the church. He is accompanied by a young and eager priest (James D'Arcy) whose belief in God is so mighty you know he is doomed. Merrin finds more in common with Dr. Sarah Novack (Izabella Scorupco), one of those selfless souls who can do good deeds without ever mussing her makeup or perfectly coifed hair.
Father Merrin -- oops, make that Mr. Merrin -- and Dr. Sarah Share a Holocaust background. She is a concentration camp survivor, while he left the church after witnessing Nazi atrocities in his native Holland.
The remainder of the movie is taken up with bad nightmares, living nightmares of strange doings in the devil's playground and hideous deaths experienced by several characters. The soundtrack is more alarming than the hyenas as every sound is amplified and ominous choral music pounds away. From time to time, Merrin feels the urge to search -- alone -- inside the church or go digging in the nearby graveyard. He always does so in the dead of night. Guess he doesn't want to wake anybody up.
Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro makes the whole look much better than it deserves, while designer Stefano Maria Ortolani does an amazing job of creating an African desert, old Cairo and wintry Holland on the backlots of Rome's famed Cinecitta Studios.
This is the kind of film that mysteriously vanishes from most participants' resumes. In this instance, they can always fall back on Flip Wilson's old line and claim that "the devil made me do it."
EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING
Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Renny Harlin
Screenwriter: Alexi Hawley
Story by: William Wisher Jr., Caleb Carr
Producer: James G. Robinson
Executive producers: Guy McElwaine, David C. Robinson
Director of photography: Vittorio Storaro
Production designer: Stefano Maria Ortolani
Music: Trevor Rabin
Costume designer: Luke Reichle
Editors: Mark Goldblatt, Todd E. Miller
Father Merrin: Stellan Skarsgard
Father Francis: James D'Arcy
Dr. Sarah Novack: Izabella Scorupco
Joseph: Remy Sweeney
Major Granville: Julian Wadham
MPAA rating: R
Running time -- 112 minutes