Bad Movies Done Right — The Exorcist: The Beginning

Every day Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a movie either so bad it’s good or just downright terrible. Today: The Devil made me do it.

The Exorcist: The Beginning, the prequel to 1973’s groundbreaking horror film The Exorcist, was damned from the beginning.

The original director, John Frankenheimer, dropped out of making the film due to health complications that ultimately led to his death. His replacement, Paul Schrader, was fired from the film after he had finished shooting because the studio demanded a bloodier movie instead of the psychological thriller Schrader turned in. Renny Harlin was then brought in as replacement director to punch the film up a bit. Instead, he reshot close to 90 percent of the original movie.

It’s no surprise, then, that The Exorcist: The Beginning is one large and clumsy steaming pile of celluloid crap. Owing more in common to the Schwarzenegger shoot-‘em-up Satan flick End of Days then the original Exorcist, The Beginning relies on blood and guts where its predecessor wisely chose to utilize mood and atmosphere.

What made the original Exorcist so darn scary was its use of supernatural horror in an everyday setting. By setting the movie in a typical suburban dwelling, audiences were slowly led down a dark path of terror at a nerve clenching pace.

With Exorcist: The Beginning audiences are instead instantly thrown into a world the average theatre visitor knows nothing about: East Africa.

This change in location does not instantly mark a bad movie; it simply made the job harder for the filmmaker — a challenge that Harlin was not able to meet.

Taking place in the Turkana region of Kenya, Exorcist: The Beginning reveals the story of Father Merrin, the elder exorcist character from the original film, and his first encounter with Captain Howdy, the naughty little demon that has a penchant for possessing little children.

Lankester Merrin, played by Stellan Skarsgård in the lone quality performance of the movie, has shed his priesthood after a crisis of faith. Called upon to lead an archeological dig, Merrin discovers a Byzantine church where one should not be.

Ignoring any nagging bit of common sense, Merrin and his crew disturb a tomb that had been buried for some reason and, in the process, awaken an evil that proceeds to systematically lay waste to the neighboring village.

The first film was notorious for its use of a slug like pace in atmosphere that finally paid off in a whopper of an ending. At first, its prequel attempts to create a similar kind of pace, but it quickly looses patience with atmosphere and mood and instead settles on scaring the audiences with clumsy computer graphics and cheap scares.

Audiences may jump in their seats when hideously rendered CGI hyenas ravage a small child in a gory scene that would make Eli Roth blush, but audiences would also jump out of their seats if a balloon was popped in their face.

Exorcist: The Beginning relies too much on the usage of unnecessary violence and loud noises to frighten audiences and this unfortunately leaves the movie with a hollow taste.

It’s hard to take any movie seriously when the protagonist demands on following a strict regime to Hollywood’s cliché horror rules.

1.) If you have to dig in a graveyard or enter a deserted tomb, make sure you do it at night.

2.) Extreme close-ups of the decent demonic make-up jobs will convince audiences that bad pores are scary.

3.) Introduce a cute monkey for a pet and then feed it to hyenas on steroids.

Exorcist: The Beginning is a connect-the-dot horror movie that does not deserve to ride the coat tails of its classic predecessor.

The cast, minus Skarsgård who turns in a wonderfully nuanced performance, seems to be comprised of escapees from a made-for-TV melodrama. Additionally, the use of bright colors successfully manages to defuse any atmosphere the director may have been attempting to create. The computer graphics are completely pointless and clumsily executed. Some usage of unsettling angles and haunting score help the movie in some regards, but unfortunately it’s too little, too late.

Audiences who enjoy run-of-the-mill schlock will probably get a mild kick out of this phone-in excuse for a prequel, but audiences seeking a little meat with their blood will come out empty handed and slightly angry with this dumbed-down flick that very well might have been the work of Satan.

For the record, Robert Saucedo didn’t think Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist was much better. Follow him on Twitter @robsaucedo2500.

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