Exorcist: The Beginning

After the history behind this one, the track record of such projects and the essentially miserable filmgoing year that has been 2004 to date, I truly expected to hate EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING. 

It got off to a rather slow and ponderous start, and I was sharpening my knives. The first truly shocking scene was hampered just a tad by looking a bit too "computery" (I couldn't care less about CGI turning up in a MUMMY or some such monster movie, but an EXORCIST film frightens you by making evil look completely convincing in a recognizable setting--once you throw the computer switch, you've put a bit of a wall between us, sorry. However, the scene in question was undeniably vicious, daring and disturbing. Shall I say which scene? Well... 

While I still want to see Paul Schrader's version, I've got to hand it to Renny Harlin for following the first punch up with some undeniably well-built shocks and some consistently disturbing themes (ever see SOPHIE'S CHOICE? This one hits a similar nerve in a flashback that's really going to chap a few hides). 

The theme of the desecrated (and, this time, buried) church carries over well from the original--as does the presence of evil as a human quality. Tensions between an African tribe and the British Army are well played and have a truly hellish payoff by the end of the film--and while you "gotta" have a Catholic exorcism SOMEWHERE in the film, there's a more primitive rite attempted at one point... and the results are likely to hold your attention. 

Stellan Starsgard--well, this is the second time he's been asked to interpret this role, but his casting as the younger Lancaster Merrin was perfect--you can just see him waiting to age into Max Von Sydow, and his performance is well-tuned to the character. 

I have no doubt that they're still going to take a bath on this EXORCIST prequel imbroglio--and neither version of the film will ever reach the heights of the original. In fact, I get the impression that most people are going to rip the Renny Harlin version to shreds at the very least. But I won't be one of them--I thought this was well-thought out, skillfully played and... surprise, surprise... genuinely creepy at times. As scary as the original? Not on your life. But it beat the odds this year anyway, and I'm glad I saw it.

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