Father Lankester Merrin thinks that he has glimpsed the face of Evil. In the years following World War II, Merrin is relentlessly haunted by memories of the unspeakable brutality perpetrated against the innocent people of his parish. In the wake of all he has seen, both his faith in his fellow man and his faith in the Almighty have deserted him. He can no longer honestly call himself a man of God. Merrin has traveled far from his native Holland in a desperate attempt to escape the horrors that he witnessed there. While drifting through Cairo, he is approached by a collector of rare antiquities to join a British archeological excavation in the remote Turkana region of Kenya. They have unearthed a Christian Byzantine church in inexplicably pristine condition--as if it had been buried on the day it was completed. The collector wants Merrin, an Oxford-educated archeologist, to find an ancient relic hidden within the church before the British discover it. But beneath the church, something much older sleeps, waiting to be awoken. Madness descends upon the local villagers and the contingent of British soldiers who've been sent to guard the excavation. Merrin watches helplessly as the atrocities of war are repeated against another innocent village--atrocities he had prayed never to see again. The blood of innocents flows freely on the East African plain, and the horror has only just begun. In the place where Evil was born, Merrin will finally see its true face.
Spinning heads, cascades of pea soup and your mother's Army boots are nowhere to be found in "Exorcist: The Beginning," but lovers of the ridiculous may be delighted to know that the specter of little Linda Blair a-twitch and a-tremble is not entirely forgotten. A prequel to "The Exorcist," William Friedkin's 1973 shocker in which Ms. Blair played a child hijacked by Beelzebub, this new film comes gussied up with some fine talent (it stars Stellan Skarsgard as the same character played by Max von Sydow in the original) and a bag of cheap tricks, but when push comes to demonic shove hell apparently hath no fury like a woman in green pancake makeup just as surely as some producers hath no shame. Despite Renny Harlin's reliance on shock cuts and loud noises, however, the film singularly fails to deliver any palpable shivers. Perhaps more expectedly it does afford the occasional and presumably unintended laugh. — Minhola Dargis
2004-08-21 | Manohla Dargis | Read the New York Times Review of Exorcist: The Beginning