Father Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard) is haunted by the atrocities of WWII (he had to make one of those Sophie’s Choice type deals), so he moves to
The backstory on this flick is a Hell of a lot more interesting than the actual film itself. Production company Morgan Creek hired Paul (Cat People) Schrader to direct this prequel to the 1973 Pea Soup Puke-A-Thon, The Exorcist. After they didn’t dig the final product, they decided to hire Renny (Cliffhanger) Harlin to come in and reshoot the movie. Not just reshoot a few scenes, but the ENTIRE movie. Warner Brothers liked Harlin’s version and they released it as Exorcist: The Beginning, to bad reviews and middling box office returns. Looking to recoup some quick cash, they decided to release Schrader’s version the next year.
Comparisons to The Beginning are unavoidable. While Harlin’s flick will never be mentioned in the same breath as William Friedkin’s original, it at least it had its fair share of queasy moments and delivered the goods when it came time to start slinging the holy water around. Harlin knew what he was doing when he filmed those scenes of bloodthirsty hyenas chowing down on little tykes. Schrader’s idea of scary? Having troubled British soldiers blow their brains out. It’s just not the same. And say what you will about Renny’s movie; at least it didn’t have a bunch of arty dream sequences in it.
The lack of faith the studio had in this project is evident because of the criminally low budget Schrader had for CGI effects. They are all extremely shoddy looking (especially the hyenas) and make the effects in The Beginning look like freakin’ Star Wars by comparison. Also, Schrader spends way too much time on the weak subplot about the African natives’ potential uprising that frankly goes nowhere.
Schrader’s version isn’t a complete washout though. I liked some things that he did, like having the possessed kid being a complete inverse of Regan from the original. (Regan was a healthy girl who got progressively worse from the possession while the kid in this flick is a crippled boy who grows stronger from having the demon inside him.) Schrader imbued the flick with a lot of theological dilemmas and moralistic angst, which is somewhat refreshing, but unfortunately he neglected to make any of it very memorable or scary.
I guess it all depends on the kind of film you’re looking for. If you want a popcorn friendly possession flick with some decent gore, then check out Exorcist: The Beginning. If you want a somber, slow moving meditation on the nature of evil and its influence on man, see Dominion. But if you want to watch a CLASSIC, see the original Exorcist instead.