Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)

Director: Renny Harlin

Writers: William Wisher Jr., Calep Carr, Alexi Hawley

Composer: Trevor Rabin

Starring: Stellan Skarsgard, Izabella Scorupco, James d'Arcy, Remy Sweeney, Julian wadham, Andrew French, Ralph Brown, Ben Cross, David Bradley, Alan Ford, Antonie Kamerling, Eddie Osei, Israel Oyelumade

More info: IMDb

Tagline: A new chapter of evil

Plot: Archeologist Lankester Merrin is asked to go to East Africa to excavate a church that has been found completely buried in sand. Merrin is also an ordained Roman Catholic priest who, still haunted by what he was forced to do during World War II in his native Holland, eschews any religion or belief. He's fascinated by what he finds and that it dates hundred of years before Christianity was introduced to the area. Accompanied by a young priest, Father Francis, to keep an eye on the religious elements of what they find, Merrin makes his way to the camp. There he meets a young doctor, Sarah and soon realizes there is an air of gloom that envelops the entire site. Workmen go mad and a young boy is mauled by a pack of hyenas while completely ignoring his younger brother Joseph. Inside the church itself they find signs of desecration. Merrin is forced to re-examine his lack of faith and come face to face with the devil.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again? No.  I'm done.

Here's an interesting experiment.  Paul Schrader directed and completed this film.  When the producers didn't like it because it was a psychological film missing lots of gore they hoped for, the fired him and hired Renny Harlin to make another one, salvaging what footage he could from Schrader's version.  The running times on both are about five minutes shy of two hours and about 10% of Schrader's film made it into Harlin's.  It's been about 9 years since I saw both and I'm watching them again for the last time.  I remember not thinking either film was all that good but I couldn't tell you why.

With both films we get the back story on Father Merrin's encounter with the devil 25-30 years prior to his fateful second meeting in THE EXORCIST (1973).  It's not that bad of a story but it's in the telling that makes or breaks it.  As mentioned, it's about two hours long.  On one hand you get some nice visuals but on the other the CGI wolf effects are dodgy.  I'm OK with that.  They'd already made one movie and now the backers are having to shell out a lot more dough to re-make it in the hopes of getting something they can sell released.  I get it.  I'm willing to overlook it.  The sepia tone look of the film gets a little old.  I realize they're in the desert the whole time but it would have been nice to not have so much grading to make everyone and everything else look like the desert.  The moments of color we get are in Merrin's flashbacks to WWII and the night he was forced to make a terrible decision.  Those scenes are in hues of blue, grey and black, a stark contrast to everything else.  I guess that's a minor quibble but it's just one thing that stands out.  The pacing is OK but it's just that the overall film was, well, no better than OK.  The big exorcism ending felt rushed followed by a borderline too happy ending but that could have been largely felt in the music score.  Fortunately, the film didn't do so hot at the box office so in an effort to try and recoup more of their money, the studio released Schrader's version.  Like either, both or neither, it's a great thing they did.  It offers an interesting insight into the world of Hollywood and how and why things happen.

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