In 2003, respected filmmaker and screenwriter Paul Schrader was hired to direct a prequel to the 1973 box-office smash The Exorcist. However, when Schrader turned in his film to executives at Morgan Creek Productions, the producers felt the film was not marketable, and they opted to remake the picture with director Renny Harlin, who brought a more visually aggressive approach to the story than Schrader's more contemplative vision. In 2004, Harlin's film, Exorcist: The Beginning, was released to middling critical and financial response, while the following year, Schrader's version went into limited release following film festival screenings. In Schrader's Exorcist: The Prequel, Father Lankester Merrin, the aging exorcist from the original story (played here by Stellan Skarsgård) is introduced in 1944, as he serves a flock in Holland during the Nazi occupation. After Nazi officers force Merrin to choose ten members of his congregation for immediate execution, Merrin is left an emotionally broken man, and he takes a leave of absence from his duties. Three years later, Merrin is taking part in an archeological project in East Africa, and he and his crew -- including priest Father Francis (Gabriel Mann), Major Granville (Julian Wadham), and Rachel Lesno (Clara Bellar) -- discover that a church from the fifth century has been buried in the desert. As Merrin and his associates discover that that a porthole to evil is located in the church, Cheche (Billy Crawford), a local boy Merrin has taken under his wing, begins showing signs of having fallen under the spell of Satanic forces.
by Mark Deming synopsis