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Exorcist: The Beginning

Exorcist: The Beginning on DVD

The prequel to “the scariest movie ever made” is unfortunately not all that terrifying.

Father Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard) has given up on his faith. He joins a British archeological excavation in Kenya, where strange things are happening. A Christian Byzantine church has been discovered, perfectly preserved, under the ground. The strangest part yet is that it appears to have been buried purposefully on the very day it was completed.

That would be reason enough for most people to start walking in the opposite direction. But this is a horror movie…

A team descends into the church. Beneath the church they find something horrific. Madness descends upon the villagers and soldiers. Father Merrin witnesses atrocities he hoped he’d never have to witness again. And it appears that a young local boy, Joseph, may be possessed by the devil. Father Merrin may need more than just his faith to come out on top of this one.

If the fact that horror sequels (or prequels) are rarely good isn’t enough, perhaps the fact that the film was directed by Renny Harlin (who is not known for his classics) will sufficiently prepare you for the worst. But you will probably be surprised to learn that Exorcist: The Beginning is not as bad as you’ve undoubtedly heard.

The tone of the film is bang on. Bright and early we get a creepy vibe as thousands of people are seen being crucified upside down (we’re not sure what the relevance of that is, but it sure does set the mood!). We know that the movie has to do with possession, which is scary enough on its own, but to watch the evil doings of the evildoers will surely cause a shiver down the spine. Exorcist: The Beginning moves very slowly (and appropriately so), building and building and holding off on the inevitable “appearance” of the devil until the last possible second.

But by that time you’ve lost interest. As well as it starts, the film takes a few wrong turns in the form of pure, gross-out horror. Movies such as this need to rely on psychological terror to scare the audience, like the original Exorcist did thirty years ago. Renny Harlin ixnays anything psychological and prefers to throw the horror right in your face. There’s a short scene in which a baby is born, and visually it’s handled as well as can be expected, but the fact that it ceases to be creepy and comes off as unnecessarily disgusting hinders it more than it can handle. Not to mention the fact that the whole scene is completely arbitrary.

Even when the dark lord does show up, it’s not scary. Having never met the guy, it’s hard to say just how frightening he is face to face (or face to host’s face), but such a chap would probably use more than just a devilish voice on his suspecting victims.

Maybe it’s easier (and more fun) to nitpick at a movie’s flaws, but the Exorcist prequel isn't really all bad, just misguided. It’s a lot better than much of the schlock that comes out of Hollywood these days (The Grudge anyone?); but it just never clicks and relies on the wrong kind of horror.

Still, it’s worth watching to appease curiosity, and if you’re like this reviewer and never really cared for the original Exorcist in the first place, you probably won’t care nearly as much about its misguided intentions.

It was originally announced that Warner Bros. would release a DVD featuring not only this version of the film, but also Paul Schrader’s completed version. Evidently, they weren’t talking about this DVD. In fact, there’s not a single mention of the alternate version anywhere to be found here, but the presentation is pretty good nonetheless.

Picture quality on the disc is excellent. It’s a pretty dark film, but the occasional colors show up well, and detail is always perfectly visible. Bits like bad lighting hinder the picture, but it’s no fault of those involved in the DVD. Fleshtones are done well, and there are never any halos around the actors.

Audio, available in Dolby Digital and dts 5.1 tracks, is pretty good too. Dialogue is as clear as invisibility, with music and sound effects meshing nicely, although there isn’t a lot of surround use. A film like this could use subtle sound effects and the rear channels to scare the heck out of people, but the back of the room is oddly silent. The subwoofer gets a good workout in a few scenes, and it’s neither too much nor too little.

Renny Harlin’s audio commentary is a disappointment. There are gaps of silence throughout, and he doesn’t so much as mention the alternate Paul Schrader version. Perhaps it’s asking a lot of a filmmaker to discuss someone else’s film during his own commentary, but how this version came to be would be quite a story, and one would benefit from such a perspective. The eight-minute making-of featurette doesn’t shed any more light on the subject, and is more fluff than anything else. Also included is the theatrical trailer.

Exorcist: The Beginning, from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
113 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital & dts 5.1
Starring Stellan Skarsgard, Izabella Scorupco, James D’Arcy
Produced by James G. Robinson
Screenplay by Alexi Hawley, Directed by Renny Harlin


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