Infamous for its well-documented production problems, Renny Harlin's version of The Exorcist prequel is as troubled as its own tumultuous history. While blessed with gorgeous cinematography from Vittorio Storaro and a solid performance by Stellan Skarsgård, this shocker is hampered by the exact studio-led decisions that moved original director Paul Schrader out of the director's seat and Mr. Popcorn Schlockmaster in. Gone are the subtlety and deep theosophical underpinnings that dug deep into the hearts of moviegoers back in 1973. Instead, Exorcist: The Beginning opts for a kind of in-your-face nastiness that seems as out of place as any that might have been carelessly added into the first version. Tight shots of bloody gore have been strewn throughout the piece, immediately calling attention to themselves as unnecessary horror devices that don't drive the narrative, but sully it up. Harlin deserves some credit for certainly trying to make his most serious pic, though, even then, the whole thing comes off horribly uneven. It's an interesting story, and if done well, would play up the conflict of Father Merrin to a point where you could see an arc that would connect to the first film. As it is now, the drama comes off crude, as do the computer effects, where everything from matte shots to silly CG hyenas fail to induce either setting or dread. With less grandiose (and sometimes laughable) stylistic choices and a pared down vision of exactly what kind of story is being told here, The Beginning might have had a shot -- then again, it did, and much to Schrader's dismay, that film was passed over for this thinly veiled attempt to cash in on what clueless people think makes this series tick.
by Jeremy Wheeler review