Interesting but not compelling, spooky but not scary. Merging a story of regaining faith with every supernatural element of the original Exorcist succeeds only in surpassing the first unnecessary sequel.
Only a few years following the end of World War II, a discovery is made in East Africa: the remnants of a Catholic church that dates to a time and place that there should not be one. A young Lancaster Merrin (Stellan Skarsgård) is asked to investigate the claim because of his knowledge of religious artifacts, but what he finds there will challenge his lost faith in order to do battle with a demon that can posses the innocent.
This is actually the second cut of two films created by Warner Bros. following the successful re-release of the original film The Exorcist. A hastily-made sequel (The Heretic) fell flat following that movie, but a third film subtitled Legion managed to re-capture a little of the old black magic from William Friedkin’s direction of the original film. That said, The Beginning is better than The Heretic but on the same old tired scares that modern audiences shun.
The core story is actually interesting, that of a priest regaining his faith in a time of adversity. Parallels are drawn throughout the film about racial misunderstandings leading to genocide, but at the same time the film undermines a good story with false scares, unrealistically loud noises, and repeated shots of desert scavengers feasting on a free-meal corpse (the work of the devil if ever there was one). To put it another way, the cheap thrills feel sprinkled around instead of allowing the audience to be drawn into the story because their too busy rolling their eyes at constant reminders that, “THIS is an EXORCIST movie!”
Stellan Skarsgård does the tortured character well and is perfect for the younger Merrin and a worthy successor to Max von Sydow as the senior Merrin; I originally envisioned Skarsgård as “Doc Ock” for Spider-Man 2 before Alfred Molina sold me instead. Izabella Scorupco has been working on her American accent and is finally given a chance to play a less tough, more feminine roll than the ones she usually gets (GoldenEye, Reign of Fire). James D’Arcy, however, was annoying every second he was one screen; it seems that at every moment he’s about to smile at some unfortunate thing happily happening to someone else.
The Exorcist featured a priest harboring a secret past with a demon while the Legion showed what happened to the demon afterward, so shouldn’t the Beginning have been expected to delve into the demon?s origins? What is the demon?s purpose? Where did the missing victims disappear to? Was it absolutely necessary to show a child tied to bed while breakable things fall of a nearby shelf? Instead of answers and horror you get promises and parlor tricks, and no amount of computer-generated flies or hyenas make the final cut any more forgivable.
(a two skull recommendation out of four)