Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) – By Matt Singer

Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) – By Matt Singer

Maybe me and this movie have different ideas of
what the word "horror" means.

Admittedly, Exorcist: The Beginning is not
your typical horror picture; it doesn’t rely on
typical genre tricks like load soundtrack noises and
people bumping into their friends around darkened
corridors. Nor is it, like the original
Exorcist, a film that slowly builds tension
within the audience by increasingly deepening a sense
of dread and danger around the main characters.

Instead, it operates singularly around what I call
the "How’d That Get In There Principle." Every moment
that is intended to scare is based around presenting
an object, item, or animal inside another object,
item, or animal it does not belong in. So our heroes
are disturbed to discover an IV bag fills up with
blood: how’d that get in there? Ice turns up inside
an underground tunnel: how’d that get in there? Birds
appear inside an abandoned church: how’d they get in
there? A woman gives birth to a baby covered in
maggots: how’d those get in there? A man finds bugs
crawling out of the boils on his face: how’d those get
in there? Another man finds a butterfly inside his
mouth: how’d that get in there?

And so on. Even the plot is based upon one massive
How’d That Get In There. A Catholic church is
discovered in Africa, buried beneath a desert (how’d
that get in there?) and a young Father Merrin (Max von
Sydow in the original film, Stellan Skarsgard here) is
dispatched to investigate its meaning.

This Exorcist prequel was famously directed
by Renny Harlin who, for a brief period in the 1990s,
was an exciting film director. We’re talking very
brief; the period between Die Hard 2 (1990) and
Cliffhanger (1993). Since then his resume is
filled with high-budget disasters (notorious pirate
bomb Cutthroat Island) and literal and
figurative car crashes like Driven. Harlin was
brought in after original director Paul Schrader was
fired by his bosses at Morgan Creek for making a film
they deemed too cerebral for a lavish summer release.
Harlin was originally brought in to shoot additional
footage to add to Schrader’s version, but eventually
ended up remaking the movie in its entirety.

On his commentary track on The Beginning‘s
DVD, Harlin calls the original Exorcist "slow"
in comparison to his film. Somehow, even though he is
making a derivative cash-in sequel, Harlin has the
guts to explain why his film is better than the one
that spawned it! While I admire his balls and his
deep, deep state of denial (If his version was any
good, Schrader’s film would not be getting its own
release this summer), comparing The Exorcist to
Exorcist: The Beginning is like comparing
apples with orange flavored crap. Not to mention,
Harlin’s Exorcist is only well paced for "How’d
that get in there?" moments. He may have an edge over
Exorcist II: The Heretic (which wastes some
spectacular visuals on a head-achingly bad story) and
Exorcist III (which wasn’t even supposed to be
an Exorcist movie until, midway through
shooting, the studio demanded director William Peter
Blatty add an exorcism to an otherwise
non-supernatural film) but that’s like saying that
getting stabbed in the arm is better than getting
stabbed in the head or the chest. At best it still
hurts.

Back in college, I showed The Exorcist as a
midnight movie. Someone fainted during the film and
paramedics had to come. Has anyone fainted during
Exorcist: The Beginning? No, falling asleep
doesn’t count.