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Exorcist: The Beginning

Renny Harlin, USA, 2004

Rating: 3.2


Posted: March 15, 2005

Man, remember that little demonic girl, the one who puked all over the place? No, nimrod, not that Olsen girl, but the chick from The Exorcist, Linda Blair. Man, that was spooky. It is said that people who worked on that film were cursed, and if you check out the later film career of Ms. Blair, there may be something to that.

Anyway, I just saw Exorcist: The Beginning, and I’m here to deliver the real deal on it. (Actually, I was supposed to go see it when it was at the theatres, but I spent the money from ST’s petty cash fund to try out one of those fried Twinkies. Now that’s good eatin’! The film itself is 144 minutes long and I think it was only at theatres for about 288 minutes before it was pulled, so you can see how I missed it.)

This film tells of the early days of Father Merrin (yes, film geeks, the same priest who tried to cast the devil out of Linda Blair in the first film). Merrin, played by Stellan Skarsgard from that Good Will Hunting movie, is a shattered man with no faith left after witnessing the horrors of World War II. He has renounced the priesthood and taken a job from some spooky Eurotrash dude to obtain a rare artifact, a small idol of an ancient demon, heading off to Africa to begin his search. Long story short, there's an ancient church buried in the sand there, with all kinds of inverted crucifixes and satanic stuff. Strange things start to happen, random possessions occur, and the natives begin to have their fill of these meddling outsiders unleashing ancient evil.

Merrin forms a bond with a local doctor named Sarah, who is trying to treat a young boy believed to be possessed by a spirit. How does that saying go again? Feed a possession, starve a fever... or is it starve a possession...? I forget. Anyway, suffice it to say this ain’t no M. Night switcharoo crap where there really is no evil. My friends, there is evil aplenty! Without ruining the film for you, let’s just say that there’s a little twist about who the demonic spirit is really after.

Now, as a film unto itself, this is an average, run-of-the-mill demonic possession flick. The only thing that makes it slightly interesting is recalling the first film, and then learning how Merrin first came face-to-face with demonic possessions. When approached by another priest who tries to convince Merrin that possession does exist, the younger priest recalls the tale of an order of nuns who went “insane” and had an orgy with each other and some goats. Merrin replies: “That does not make them evil, just horny... and inventive.” Yeah, I know, this dude is a regular Don Rickles. He ain’t smiling, though, when he has a showdown in the unearthed church with a demon. Then he figures out that the younger padre was laying some righteous words on him. Ain't that always the way? (Me, I believed the dude right off the bat -- lesbian nuns messing around with goats ain't something to take lightly. Trust me, I've had dreams about that very subject.)

This is an odd film to categorize. The Merrin character is interesting, but on the other hand, the hot doctor never gets naked. You see what I mean? It's several notches above a typical mindless flick, yet it is far from a work of greatness. Back in the day, before we knew about karate and robots, I guess demonic possession was a big deal, although most of us today have been there, done that. But the story does crank up the intensity as it progresses, which is a good thing. Still, no one's gonna mistake this for Die Hard 2 or Deep Blue Sea, even though, like Exorcist: The Beginning, they were directed by Renny Harlin. (I could see someone mistaking it for Cliffhanger, though, if they've been hitting the sauce.)

I think it's fair to suggest that you know what you’re getting into when you rent this flick. As I often say, it is “what it is” and with that in mind, I guess it “does what it does.” Bottom line: if you're into movies with demonic possessions and such, you'll probably dig it, although it won't really stick to your ribs. Go ahead and rent it; what’s the worst that could happen? Aside from dreaming about those nuns and their goats.

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 Clemenza's Ratings Key:

 5.0: A drop of bliss

 4.0-4.9: Touchdown!
 3.0-3.9: Close, but...
 2.0-2.9: Box of Rocks
 1.1-1.9: Time bandit
 0.0-1.0: Soul scarring
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