Retro Review: Exorcist: The Beginning

In 1973, a little film directed by William Friedkin (The French Connection) was released that caused mass hysteria, fainting and undying controversy. The film launched new comer Linda Blair into the spotlight and set a benchmark for psychological horror films to come. The film was “The Exorcist”.

In the new Exorcist film, we are introduced to a younger Father Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard, Max Von Sydow in the original 1973 film). This film is almost an origin story if you will.

Following the devastation and gritty aftermath of World War II, Merrin has become disillusioned with his faith and turned his back on the church. He now makes his life as an archeologist.

His passion for uncovering the past brings him to a desolate village on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya where a church has been uncovered. The church was built in 500 AD and seems to hold a rather disturbing secret. Upon Merrin’s arrival, he is greeted by Sarah (Izabella Scorupco), a doctor who has been with the dig since the beginning.

As Merrin begins to investigate the mysterious church he learns that the site was constructed over a pagan temple and that the archeologist who uncovered the site has gone completely insane. As the mystery deepens, Merrin will face his tortured past, seek redemption and face the greatest evil man has ever known.

Stellan Skarsgard is quite impressive as the struggling Merrin and it his performance that accents a lot of the credibility housed in this film. You can see this man’s pain and how he conflicts with everything he witnesses. Even in the attraction scenes with the younger Scorupco, Skarsgard doesn’t allow his character to find any raw emotion.

Director Renny Harlin’s tone and gritty nature does emulate a lot of what is happening within Merrin. But his overly gory and bloody sequences make the film quite hard to stomach in places. I have also never witnessed so many blatant attempts to lay on the gore so heavy.

Gore is fine but here it seems layered on as a sort of horror icing. Does gore equal horror?

What was so fun about the original was that it was highly psychological even though we did have that infamous “pea soup” scene. It dove into the mind of not only Linda Blair’s 12-year old girl but the struggling of Father Merrin. In the new film we seem to lose the psychological element as the true evil is finally revealed.

The film feels like it goes over three hours but it is only about 100 minutes. The reason for this is probably because there is just so much heaviness and dark gritty scenes that your mind plays tricks on you.

In a lot of the scenes which used overly horrific elements, I found that is was just too much. Also the film throws out the whole idea that Hollywood doesn’t harm children on camera. There are just so many unsettling and disturbing scenes housed in this film.

I really enjoyed Skarsgard and Renny Harlin’s gritty direction. I also was captivated by a lot of the film’s mysterious elements and story. I just got frustrated with the gratuitous gore and disturbing violence.

3 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer.

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