We all know that Warner Bros. and Morgan Creek have been battling to get this freaking prequel made for god knows how long now. There have been problems after problems, and not until the original ‘Exorcist’ was re-released nearly four years ago did the movie finally get back on its feet. But the problems continued and Paul Schrader’s version of the prequel was canned. He was fired from the film because it was deemed “not scary enough.” Renny Harlin was brought in as a last minute replacement director and they decided to shoot an entirely different movie in a short period of time, which is the version you’ll see in theaters this weekend. The movie turned out to be a lot better than I expected, but the fact that the movie was rushed stands out like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in New York City.
The story takes place years before Father Merrin saved Reagan’s soul, in a time when Father Merrin has lost his faith in God and is sent to Pazuzu, East Africa to research a newly discovered temple. The temple, which was constructed at 3.A.D., is said to not exist because the church has no records of it. When Merrin reaches the temple, he wonders why the temple had been buried almost at the exact same time it was finished being constructed. While he battles to find out the meaning of the temple the tribes around the area are all infected with some disease and are all dying off fast, they are convinced a little boy has been possessed by the Devil and are attempting to kill him. The story is all over the place, but everything is brought together with the central ideas built in the first ‘Exorcist.’
What I loved about ‘Exorcist: The Beginning’ was that it was a cross between ‘The Serpent and the Rainbow,’ ‘The Omen’ and ‘The Exorcist.’ You’ve got a tribe running around talking about possessions and performing insanely cool rituals, you’ve got the possessed boy with the Devil inside him and you’ve got the story built around faith like the original ‘Exorcist,’ with of course an exorcism.
The movie was brutal too; there were some really graphic moments in the film, which is something I didn’t expect to see in a Warner Bros. film. A little boy gets ripped to shreds by a pack of wolves (or hyenas?), there’s decapitated heads, blood everywhere and even disemboweled corpses. Any horror fan will have a blast with those moments. But the real pity is that all of the great moments of the film were ruined by ‘Van Helsing’ like SFX. Were CG flies really necessary? Come on!
In a typical Warner Bros. fashion they tried throwing money at the problem, and of course it did nothing but hinder the film. Had they pushed this film back until next year and worked on the FX more, it truly would have been a better film. Right off the bat I chuckled at how bad the backdrop looked in Iraq- you could see the fake buildings as opposed to the real ones. The wolves, which were everywhere in the film, looked ridiculous at moments and the flies floating around corpses and blood soaked floors just lessoned the effect of the moments. Towards the end of the film, there is a battle in the underground Temple where good takes on evil and it truly is a great moment, except for the FX once again! The Devil walks on walls backwards and hangs upside down, which with good FX work, would have been AMAZING! The film would have been so much more effective minus the FX, it truly turned into ‘Van Helsing’ at moments. I pray that WB and Morgan Creek put a tad more money into the finished product for a DVD release, because I really would love to see this movie with corrected effects.
But minus the FX, the movie was pretty cool and I loved the story and the mythology behind everything. What truly makes this movie unique is how in the 1973 ‘Exorcist’ the priests lose due to their lack of faith, while they triumph due to their overwhelming belief in God in this film. Sure I might be Jewish, but these Christian-based movies are so cool to watch, they make me think of Greek Mythology and all of the amazing stories there are to offer. Knowing that WB threw this sucker together in months and rushed their asses off to deliver us this movie, I give them a break. The movie is far from perfect, but it’s still a perfect late summer movie to catch with a few friends before the homework starts piling up. The main thing ‘Beginning’ did was leave me wondering what Schrader delivered to WB’s offices, and if this was just ‘OK’, how bad that version must have been…