Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)
Directed by Renny Harlin

Starring Izabella Scorupco James D'Arcy Ralph Brown Stellan Skarsgård

More than 30 years after the original hit screens, along comes the very best of the sequels. It was about time. Exorcist sequels have traditionally been truly awful. Finally, we get "Exorcist 4," a film that delivers everything an Exorcist fan could want. A real, true prequel to the original, which expands on the motifs of that movie.

Everyone knows that this movie was shot twice, first by Paul Schraeder. When his version was rejected by producers for being too boring, it was refilmed by "Nightmare on Elm Street 4" director Renny Harlin.

Harlin did a great job. Ultimately the film he made wasn't high art. But it was good trash, maybe even great trash. Still not remotely in the same league as the original. You realize, once there's a shower scene, that this is by-the-numbers horror -- not an Oscar-nominateable movie on any level.

But that's OK. Because what Harlin delivers works, if you're a horror fan. Luckily Harlin understands horror. Schraeder does not (given his failure on the "Cat People" remake in the early '80s). Thank goodness the producers had the deep pockets to reshoot the whole movie with Harlin behind the camera.

The film opens close to three decades before the events in the first film. Father Merrin (Swedish actor Skarsgard taking over for Max Von Sydow) is now an ex-priest-turned-archeologist struggling to come to grips with his faith after witnessing an atrocity in Nazi-occupied Europe. He is given an offer to help excavate an ancient Christian church discovered in Africa. The church was built in a location and at a time when no Christian churches were supposed to have existed in the area. Former Goldeneye Bond girl Scorupco plays a hot-looking doctor who happens to be in the same part of Africa.

It doesn't take long to realize that something evil is hidden in the newly excavated church, particularly given the fact that someone has gone to the trouble of turning the statue of Jesus in the church upside down, never a good sign. By the second act of the film, "Exorcist: The Beginning" finally really begins to look much more like a horror film, with more supernatural happenings taking place than you can shake a crucifix at. Here, Harlin's experience directing horror is put to good use. There are some decent jolts. Nothing as earth-shattering as what we witnessed in the original "Exorcist," of course. But as a horror film "Exorcist: The Beginning" delivers the goods.

It also has a decent, if formulaic, story with the necessary mystery, and several twists at the end. Most important, and unlike the other two "Exorcist" sequels, this one actually has a killer demonic possession, and the film does a great job of bringing back the demon we all know all too well from the original. We finally get to hear the same cussing and swearing we haven't witnessed since Part 1. Nothing as close to as disturbing, of course. But then this film is set in the '40s.

"Exorcist: THe Beginnning" is undeniably the best of the Exorcist sequels. That isn't saying much because Exorcist sequels are generally bad stuff. But "Beginning" is actually quite good, delving into some of the same themes of faith and the nature of evil that were dealt with in Part 1. Presenting evil as an entity is something that's been done many times before, particularly in the 1970s with the original "Exorcist," all its clones and of course "The Omen." It's nice to see it done right again.

"The Beginning" also adds more depth to the character of Merrin whom we get to know more in the original, and helps explain some of the significance of what Father Merrin was doing at the start of that film. The 1940s setting gives it an added edge as well, with Naziism playing a role in the story's examination of the nature of good vs. evil. With a war erupting between British troops and an African tribe, the movie also bears some similarity to "Serpent and the Rainbow." In fact, it bears a lot of resemblance.

All in all, "Exorcist: The Beginning" is a must for fans of the first film, and a must for horror fans. Harlin was clearly the right man for the job. All in all, an excellent 'Exorcist'.

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-- Review by Lucius Gore

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