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Stellan Skarsgård as Father Merrin
Izabella Scorupco as Sarah
James D'Arcy as Father Francis
Remy Sweeney as Joseph
Julian Wadham as Major Granville
Andrew French as Chuma
Ralph Brown as Sergeant Major
Ben Cross as Semelier
David Bradley as Father Gionetti
Alan Ford as Jeffries
Antonie Kamerling as Lieutenant Kessel
Eddie Osei as Emekwi
Israel Aduramo as Jomo
Patrick O'Kane as Bession
James Bellamy as James
Three directors, two complete films, one release. The producers of Exorcist: The Beginning probably wish they could have enlisted the skills of Father Merrin to remove the demons from this production. John Frankenheimer was initially slated to direct the movie. He stepped down just before principal shooting and his death. Frankenheimer was replaced by Paul Schrader, who submitted a finished movie. The producers hated the slow psychological pace of it, fired him, and brought in Renny Harlin. Harlin reshot 90% of the movie and that is what was released to theaters.
One of the things that makes the original Exorcist such a good horror movie is the subtle way in which the story unfolds. In stark contrast, Renny Harlin is as subtle as a sledgehammer. He was brought in to give the film gore and shocks - which he gladly provided.
When Harlin's overpowering visual images do not drive his point home, the sound department comes to his rescue. Almost every movement is highlighted by some sort of sound effect, to the point that you expect the eyes to creak when the characters blink. Frequently, the dialog is almost inaudible due to the background noise.
In spite of all that is wrong with the movie, it is built upon a good premise and has a decent plot. Set in 1949, it revolves around the life of Father Merrin (Stellan Skarsgård) and the events that shape him into who he is in the first film. A Christian church, dated back to the 5th century, is uncovered in Kenya hundreds of years before a Christian church should have been there. Merrin, having rejected the priesthood after World War II, is hired by a collector of antiquities to steal a relic that is thought to be buried there. What he finds there is more than he thought possible.
Starring with Skarsgård are James D'Arcy (Father Francis) and Izabella Scorupco (Sarah). They all do a good job with Skarsgård shouldering the lion's share of the film and holding it up well. Remy Sweeney (Joseph) does a great job for a child actor; his range of emotion adds greatly to the creepiness of the film.
Other than the already mentioned sound problems, the rest of the film is pretty good technically. Even though they are often gratuitous, the special effects are done well. The cinematography is dark and eerie, adding to the uneasiness. The score does make you jump, but it is way too overpowering.
Who should see this movie? People that love the original will be sad that all of the subtleness has been removed, but they will enjoy learning about the history of Father Merrin. Horror fans that prefer overt shocks and gore will get what they want here. There is a good amount of action, but there are long stretches without any. If you want a love story, you will be in the wrong theater. It does make you think at times and very religious people will have plenty of things to think about. Overall, it is an okay horror movie, but it does not live up to the high standards of The Exorcist.