Satan’s movie career continues its downward trajectory with an appearance that is more funny than scary in the last third of the Exorcist: The Beginning.
Seriously, Prince of Darkness? P-shaw. I doubt he even ranks as a Duke of Naughtiness anymore. I mean, he got only a few minutes in The Passion of the Christ. He had to endure Elizabeth Hurley’s performance in Bedazzled. There hasn’t been a really entertaining movie Satan since Al Pacino’s scenery-chomping performance in Devil’s Advocate. And even that was only scary in a whiter-Michael-Corleone kind of way.
In Exorcist: The Beginning we are told, at one point, that when the angels warred in heaven, the movie’s setting in Kenya is the spot where Lucifer fell. Sure, that doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense, but whatever. As horror movies go, that seems as good a rationale as any for some really cool God-vs.-the-devil showdowns. Sadly, however, when we finally find ourselves in the presence of Lucifer, he comes in the guise of a D-list actress in Halloween make-up whose voice suggests a five-pack-a-day cigarette habit. And, man, do we ever get to hear that voice, because the devil? Is chatty.
Our story opens very Rick-in-Casablanca with the former priest/current archeologist Lancaster Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard) getting drunk in a Cairo bar. A shadowy antiquities collector arrives to offer Merrin a very mercenary job—to find and essentially steal a Sumerian idol from a church recently unearthed in Kenya. Merrin is interested, not so much for the money but because the church dates back to a time before there should be a Christian anything on the site.
Once in Kenya, Merrin is joined at the site by a goody-two-shoes-ish Vatican-representing young priest and a dishy doctor who instantly takes a liking to Merrin. Doctor Sara (Izabella Scorupco) feels all sorts of kinship with Merrin—partly because he’s rather handsome and partly because he, like her, suffered greatly at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. Together, they try to solve the mystery of why so many men on the site have been going mad, disappearing or suffering an assortment of physical ailments. In particular, they try to protect a young boy who has strange seizures and convulsions and who, his people’s tribe members believe, is possessed by the evil in the church that is being unearthed.
Merrin is skeptical about the whole presence-of-evil thing but he does come to believe that there is a secret history of the church about which the Vatican has not informed anyone. He searches, he digs, he follows caves deep into the earth and eventually, wham, Devil. And, because the devil is all about screwing with your head, he taunts Merrin—reminding him of past horrors and threatening him with new villainy. And taunts him. And scurries around via cartoonishly bad CGI and taunts him some more.
Eventually, you begin to believe that the true evil of the Devil is that he just will not shut up. Come on, Satan, you want to say, just kill me already. Enough with the gab.
Exorcist: The Beginning is not scary, though the music works overtime to try to jam in the suspense the movie forgot. For all the screaming violins and swirling buildup provided by the score as characters slowly walk down poorly lit hallways, you never feel even remotely scared. A little sad for the actors, perhaps, but not scared.
As I mentioned, the last third or so of the movie features the big exorcism showdown between Merrin and the devil. And, in some respects, the chances for that being in any way good were never all that high. Rewatch the first Exorcist. Sure, it’s a well-put-together movie but it does not age well. At 31, it’s quite hokey.
For this third installment, the special effects that make the Devil come to life seem to have devolved, not improved, from that pea-soup-spitting Linda Blair original. The result is that even had the movie built up to something, that something is nothing more than laughable special effects dressing up an underwhelming performance.
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