Having lived through traumatizing events during WWII, Father Lankester Merrin takes a sabbatical from the Church to conduct archaeological excavations in British-administered East Africa. Merrin unearths an ancient Byzantine church believed have been built and then immediately buried to keep down evil from the crypt below. The natives are convinced that uncovering the church has unleashed a demon, and begin to violently clash with the British military troops. As the village rapidly disintegrates into chaos and war, Merrin must face-off with the demon which has taken possession of somebody close to him.
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