By Johnathan Kroncke
By Johnathan Kroncke
“The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!” Well, maybe not.
When asked what the two greatest horror movies of all time are, two classics immediately come to mind. Alfred Hitchcock’s timeless “Psycho” has been feared by film afficionados and casual fans alike for years.
“The Exorcist,” however, may have been the most frightening movie ever made. People literally passed out in fear when they saw an innocent little girl turn her head 360 degrees and say terrible things to her mother.
People found the movie so frightening because in 1973 when “The Exorcist” was released, many believed that demonic possession was still in the realm of possibility. What really made the movie so bone-chilling was that it showed the devil come into a normal child just like any other. People found that idea absolutely terrifying.
Unfortunately, “The Exorcist: The Beginning” did not follow in its predecessor’s huge footsteps. While it did have its scary moments and freakish looking human host for the demon, it did not carry nearly the same level of intensity.
“The Exorcist: The Beginning” tells the story of Father Lancaster Merrin who was portrayed in the original by Max Von Sydow.In this prequel, it is Stellan Skarsgard who picks up the role left behind when Liam Neeson abandoned it.
Father Merrin, a fallen priest-turned archaeologist, is asked to help excavate a 1500 year old church in the south of Africa and recover a valuable artifact believed to be inside. He reluctantly agrees and arrives at the site with an extremely young priest named Father Francis, played by Gabriel Mann.
Along with an exceptionally grotesque co-worker and a lovely doctor played by Izabella Scorupco, Merrin began his dig. Upon entering the church, he and Father Francis discovered a statue of a crucified Jesus which had been hung upside down from the ceiling.
There was also the mystery of why a 1500-year-old church looked so well preserved and hardly weathered at all. Several other odd occurrences in the church lead Merrin to one conclusion: something was hidden beneath the church.
Under the church, we see the statue of the same demon from “The Exorcist.” After hours of pouring over drawings and searching through the church, Merrin uncovers a passageway and descends into a dark and cavernous area where we see a statue of the same demon from “The Exorcist.” Soon, all signs point to yet another possession.
It was nice to see them keep some of the original themes such as the statue of the demon and the look of the person who was possessed, keeping the pale blue skin complete with dozens of cuts and the creepy yellow eyes.
Unfortunately, not much can be said about the plot without giving too much away. However, the general plot line was already revealed in the first two installments of this series. The audience was already told that Father Merrin had successfully performed an exorcism in southern Africa many years ago and that it had almost killed him.
So, because of this, all that is left to be discovered is who is being possessed. While the movie is entertaining up to a point, with an impressive performance by Skarsgard, the only real point of interest is trying to figure out who is possessed.
In the original, we were told that the little girl played by Linda Blair was possessed. Now it was a matter of whether or not her story was believed and what they were going to do about it.
Despite the somewhat weak plot line, the good acting and tense scenes in and out of the 1500 year old church kept this a fairly enjoyable movie. That is, until the end.
In the end, we get the obvious confrontation between the Merrin and the person possessed by the demon. That’s all well and good because we already knew it had to happen. What didn’t need to happen at all was the ridiculous feud between the Africans working on the dig site and the British army who were supervising the dig.
The apparent purpose in the feud was to connect the end of the movie to the beginning which showed a priest standing in the middle of a battlefield surrounded by hundreds of dead bodies. But the fighting only came off as a hindrance on the main story line. It served only as a distraction.
Sadly, “The Exorcist: The Beginning” lacked that subtle nuance of true fear and horror that first film captured so well back in 1973. Now in 2004, more than 30 years later, the horror scene has degraded into a “surprise-scare” and slasher market.
In horror movies today the only scary scenes seem to be when something jumps out at you. The music builds, the good guy creeps forward, and then…a window flies open! Nothing that would actually be scary but gets the audience nice and tense for when the good guy turns around and stares the killer in the face.
As far as the “surprise scares” go, this movie went way over the top. Not only were there plenty of them, but every single scare was something jumping out at the audience. It was almost as if the screen writers could think of nothing better than that. There was absolutely no thought put into it whatsoever.
“The Exorcist: The Beginning” went through several revisions of the script, which was originally written as a dark psychological thriller. It suffered the loss of its original director and lead actor and, when considering the hardships, still came off ok. As it was said before, the movie was fairly enjoyable until the end. While not being nearly achieving the level of greatness that the original did, it was still very far from the atrocities known as “The Exorcist II and III.”