Exorcist: The Beginning

2004

Exorcist: The Beginning

Critics Consensus

A mediocre, gory horror film, nowhere near the quality of the 1973 original.

10%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 134

27%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 80,444
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Exorcist: The Beginning Photos

Movie Info

The first prequel in the series, Exorcist: The Beginning is based upon events featured as flashbacks in 1977's Exorcist II: The Heretic. Playing the character made famous by Max von Sydow in the earlier films, this entry finds Stellan Skarsgård as a young Father Merrin facing true evil for the first time while doing missionary work in Africa in the wake of World War II. When a young local boy begins to behave strangely, it becomes more and more apparent to Merrin that the child is a victim of demonic possession. Together with Father William Francis, a fellow cleric played by Gabriel Mann (Josie and the Pussycats, The Bourne Identity), Merrin must square off against the demon, Pazuzu, for the first of many times. Boasting a first-time screenplay by best-selling novelist Caleb Carr (The Alienist), Exorcist: The Beginning features a supporting cast headed by Clara Bellar (The Sleepy Time Gal, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence) and European pop star Billy Crawford in his first big-screen acting role. Planned for years, but plagued by problems such as the death of director John Frankenheimer (before production had even begun) and the exit of star Liam Neeson, the fourth installment of the Exorcist saga finally got off the ground with Paul Schrader (Affliction, Auto Focus) behind the camera and Skarsgård filling the shoes left empty by Neeson. But the pitfalls didn't stop there, as Warner Bros. was disappointed with the approach taken by Schrader after seeing his finished cut, and hired an uncredited Renny Harlin to helm six weeks of reshoots.

Cast

Stellan Skarsgard
as Father Lankester Merrin
James D'Arcy
as Father William Francis
Julian Wadham
as Maj. Granville
Ralph Brown
as Sgt. Maj.
Ben Cross
as Semelier
David Bradley
as Father Gionetti
Alan Ford
as Jefferies
Antonie Kamerling
as Lieutenant Kessel
Eddie Osei
as Emekwi
Cecilia Amati
as Little Dutch Girl
Matti Ristinen
as Medieval Priest
Lidia Darly
as Sebutuana's Wife
James Paparella
as Boy in Market
Silvio Jimenez Hernandez
as Stricken Turkana Worker
Yemi Goodman Ajibade
as Turkana Shaman
Michel Leroy
as Tribesman in Hospital
John Sesay
as Turkana Warrior No. 1
Sayoh Lahai
as Turkana Warrior No. 2
Alessandro Casula
as Preacher with Pazuzu
Roberto Purvis
as Corporal Finn
Stellan Skarsgard
as Father Merrin
View All

News & Interviews for Exorcist: The Beginning

Critic Reviews for Exorcist: The Beginning

All Critics (134) | Top Critics (25) | Fresh (14) | Rotten (120)

  • The serious Catholic themes that made the original film genuinely disturbing have been flattened out into a cartoonish backstory pitting Merrin against Nazi storm troopers.

    Feb 27, 2007 | Full Review…
  • Reams of tedious exposition finally give way to a random jumble of horror movie clichés, rising to a shrill pitch of hysteria that is never remotely frightening.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…
    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • A botch job of mistimed scare scenes, bland characters and computer-generated hyenas.

    Oct 30, 2004 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…

    Nev Pierce

    BBC.com
    Top Critic
  • As shocking as an Dokken album cover and, finally, as pious as The Passion of the Christ.

    Aug 24, 2004
  • Never feels like anything other than generic, brain-dead, Dolby-jolt, multiplex hackwork -- I kept expecting Skarsgard's habitually catacomb-prowling Merrin to bump flashlights with Lara Croft.

    Aug 23, 2004 | Rating: 1/5 | Full Review…
  • It rates fairly high on both the Scare-O-Meter and Gross-Out Scale, with an early hyena attack guaranteed to have you flinching in terror.

    Aug 23, 2004 | Rating: 2.5/4

Audience Reviews for Exorcist: The Beginning

  • Oct 25, 2013
    Not only generic, this film's very prequel-esque title is a little broad when we're talking about a film dealing with an ancient demon, because I'm kind of expecting this film to outline everything from Pazuzu's origins during, I don't know, the beginning of demons or something, to the events leading to "The Exorcist", way far forward into the '70s. I can think of some people who would beg for me to not even joke about that, because they feel that this film is torturous enough at just under 120 minutes, let alone something that would make the director's cut to 1973's "The Exorcist" look like a short film. Even William Peter Blatty himself described watching this film as his "most humiliating professional experience", but I for one could go a little harsher on this film, and yet, in all fairness, I could have gone a little harsher on "The Heretic", so what do I know? I will at least say that I was hoping this film would be more hardcore, because, come on, it's an "Exorcist" film directed by a Finn and starring a Swede and, shoot, for good measure, a Polish chick who was pretty much raised in Sweden, but alas, this film is far from metal. Shoot, I wasn't even all that crazy about Sweden's The Flower Kings' "Adam & Eve", and they're supposed to be one of the last hopes for quality music these days, so I reckon 2004 was a disappointing year in Scandinavian, religion-themed entertainment, or at least that was the case for the Swedes, seeing as how this film is pretty much mostly Swedish... at heart. It's more American in "brain", but either way, it's about as remembered as The Flower Kings, or at least that's how box office folk make the financial situation of this film sound, for although the $80 million final product underperformed, it still got a good deal of people to check it out out of, I don't know, morbid curiosity. No, again, this film isn't that bad, or at least not to me, though that's not at all to say that I can't see where some, if not many of the complaints are coming from. Plenty of people are going so far as to deem the film downright ridiculous, and really, I don't think that it's that goofy, but it does get to be cheesy, with trite occasions in dialogue and questionable mythology spots, which are iffy enough on paper, without some glaring subtlety issues. Gratuitous overemphasis on gore and disturbing imagery, - made all that more problematic by spotty effects - some lame jump scares and even some histrionics mark particular lowlights in subtlety, but the film is never as sharply told as 1973's "The Exorcist", and the cheesy writing doesn't make Renny Harlin's job as director any easier. The film has moments that are, in fact, dumb, and make no mistake, there is too much fat around the edges to handle with all that much realization, because even though the film doesn't meander quite as much as they say, possibly because it manages to avoid the dry spells that plagued its predecessors, including the otherwise compelling "The Exorcist", a 114-minute runtime is not achieved very easily, as material gets to be draggy and repetitious, with too much exposition, which is still somehow a touch too limited. Well, I suppose characterization is well-rounded on paper, it's just that storytelling issues distance you a bit from the characters, who stand to be more disengaging, yet would have been more effective were it not for silliness, nor genericism for that matter. The film hardly does anything all that unique, and it slips deeper and deeper into clichés as it progresses, until you end up with a final product that is nothing short of predictable, even by its own right, with its being a prequel being taken out of consideration. Needless to say, conventionalism reflects a certain laziness in this film that never fully abates, because even though the final product is by no means the disaster that many are claiming it to be, questionable writing and storytelling bring it to the brink of mediocrity. Still, make no mistake, the film is still not as messy as they say, or at least it isn't to me, being seriously flawed and all, but with commendable elements, at least from an aesthetic standpoint. There are some flat spots to Vittorio Storaro's cinematography, but definition is relatively crisp, and that's eye catching enough without sharp spots in sparse lighting plays that prove to be not only lovely, but compliment this thriller's tone, as well as Eugenio Ulissi's and Andy Nicholson's decent-looking, maybe somewhat immersive art direction. Outside of the aforementioned faulty visual effects, the film is technically and stylistically fair, offering some eye candy, even if it can't really step up its game when it comes to substance, which, even then, isn't as misguided as it could have been, and is to many of my fellow critics. Perhaps substance shortcomings are most found in the story concept's execution through Alexi Hawley's often messy script and Renny Harlin's more inspired, but still flawed direction, because this subject matter itself, while generic in plenty of areas, is pretty intriguing, juggling adventure mystery elements with religious thriller elements in a fashion that offers anything from fun ties to the "Exorcist" mythology that we recognize so well, to potential by its own right. Screenwriter Alexi Hawley, as I said a minute ago, doesn't do potential all that much justice, but his efforts are passable, while director Renny Harlin, in spite of his own considerable deal of flaws, does about as much as anyone in saving the decency of this messy final product which actually wouldn't be so messy without Harlin's faults, meeting plenty of subtlety issues with genuinely effective storytelling moments that play up disturbing, if a touch over-the-top imagery in order to establish some intensity, and offering atmospheric pacing that is actually kind of brisk. Really, if nothing else, it's sheer entertainment value that gets the film by, because even though film isn't as messy as they say, it's still seriously flawed, and such missteps go settled down a bit by a bit of a fun factor, backed by some storytelling highlights, anchored by decent performances. Acting material is seriously lacking in this part, but most everyone plays his or her part well, and that especially goes for Stellan Skarsgård, because even though Max von Sydow was seriously underused in "The Exorcist", he brought something to the Father Lankester Merrin character that Skarsgård does nothing but justice to, with charisma, as well as the occasional dramatic layer that offers more insight into a classic character who would have been more iconic were it not for ambiguities that Skarsgård fills a fair bit of. Even the performances stand to be stronger, but they're decent, enough so to help in getting the film by, and no matter how much the film challenges your investment, at least for me, it did enough right to entertain, in spite of misguided moments. When the beginning has come to an end, you're left with an improvable prequel that, by its own right, is all but brought to the brink of mediocrity on the back of some cheesiness, plenty of subtlety issues, repetitious dragging, lapses in character engagement value, and conventionalism, but handsome cinematography, decent art direction, intriguing subject matter, sometimes effective and frequently entertaining direction, and decent acting - particularly by leading man Stellan Skarsgård - endear enough for "Exorcist: The Beginning" to entertain as a decent, if messy precursor to a classic thriller saga. 2.5/5 - Fair
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Nov 01, 2011
    Watching it in conjunction with 'Dominion - Prequel to the Exorcist' (The film the studio was unhappy with so this version was filmed instead) is really quite fascinating. Its perhaps a study more interesting than the films themselves in which you examine how two sets of directors and screenwriters tell essentially the same story with a few changes here and there and the results are radically different. 'Beginning' is pretty terrible. Skarsgard is again very good in this role and the film looks finished with CGI and some nice cinematography but its totally inconsequential. While 'Dominion' has too much talking, 'Beginning' has way too much action (and gore . . . such endless and unnecessary gore) and the result is neither scary nor interesting. Whatever sense of a ethical dilemma existed in the other version is absent here, and it bored me. I didn't like 'Dominion' all that much, but at least it wasn't so generic and silly.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Oct 11, 2011
    Considering that The Exorcist is one of the greatest horror films that has ever been made, Exorcist-The Beginning is a total disappointment. What surprises me is that the film boasts a good cast. However this film really doesn't cut it as a horror film. The film is supposed to be scary, considering it is a sequel to The Exorcist, which is quite possibly the scariest film ever made. The Beginning should tell the tale of how it all began, right? The film does that, but it never is scary, or brings fear to the audience. The film was fairly predictable, and lacked any effective plot development to build the tension up. Exorcist-The Beginning is a terrible prequel that really doesn't do anything exciting to develop the plot of the series. Hell, if you ask me, The Exorcist should've never had sequels pr a prequel. The film should have been a standalone film. Exorcist-The Beginning is a lazy, unimpressive prequel and it should never have been made. The film suffers from a terrible script and poor direction on behalf of Renny Harlin. The ideas might have been interesting to explore, however the film really doesn't try to deliver anything interesting or thrilling. This film is simply awful, and will disappoint fans of Friedkin's classic film. The film is bad, and has no redeeming aspects going for it. If you're a fan of the original, then skip on this one. You'll be glad you did. The film is pretty boring and won't hold your attention through the very end, I know I had va hard time to stay interested, and it took everything for me to stay focused on this piece of trash.
    Alex r Super Reviewer
  • Jun 23, 2011
    From the newest movies I liked this one a lot. Not too many people but I enjoyed. The story of Karras was something that worthed the movie.
    Sergio G Super Reviewer

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