Exorcist – The Beginning (Renny Harlin version)

Having read all the backstory to this movie I was really quite curious to see how the second attempt, but first release, had done, especially before the firs movie was released…second!

So just to fill you in, if you didn’t already know. Paul Schrader of Taxi Driver fame completed the movie and screened it to the Studio idiots Executives. They didn’t like it, with a vengeance. So they sacked him and hired Renny Harlin to remake it with more gore than psychological terror.So that is how I came to the movie, knowing this history and that the Harlin version had been subsequently panned by the critics.

From the opening scene I was concerned, the huge swooping camera across the bloody battlefield had me thinking of action movies straight away, and that had been one of my concerns as soon as I knew Harlin was the Director.

However, to give Harlin his dues, he managed to pull back from that and take the movie down a few paces, holding back with any blood and gore scenes we were expecting. He kept the pace slower and the Merrin character more introspective, building him and revealing his past slowly. Of course he was more than ably assisted by both actors Stellan Skarsgård and Izabella Scorupco.

Still I felt that we were slipping over the glossy side of the story and a lot of the little touches that were so apparent in the original movie were either too much or too little here. Harlin couldn’t quite grasp the subtlety that the story required.

The scene that is supposed to show the torture that Merrin foes through to fall from the priesthood is lost. It turns him more into a callous and cold character and the scene doesn’t hit the intended mark. That was pretty much the entire film for me, not quite hitting the mark. Moments were overcooked or underplayed and ultimately lost.

The final battle between Merrin and the Demon comes down to a series of setups that ultimately seem contrived and give the impression that the Demon can do no more than slap and push. Not that scary.

That said, the scenes are wonderfully lit and sets look very realistic. As for the actors, there is little doubt that both Skarsgård and Scorupco are the shining stars, and hugely overshadow everyone else in the movie.

The DVD doesn’t really do the movie any favours either. With a very short feature on the making of, which is really a few short conversations with a few of the cast and director.

There’s an audio commentary from Harlin which although interesting, fails to address the history of how the movie came to him, although to be fair that is probably the best thing to do in that circumstance. Just to ignore the history and talk about the movie as a separate entity.

What does come through is that he only had a small and fixed budget with ten months to write a script and produce the movie, and that was with a fair amount of CGI. No small task, and if looked at with this knowledge then there’s a certain amount of respect to be derived there.

Finally the DVD comes shipped with the trailer that does appear to be from the Schrader version. Interestingly it does seem to carry more of the Exorcist feel with slow, creeping scenes, reversed speech and alike.

Overall this version is worth a rental to see, and I’m sure it’s going to be interesting to see it pitched against the Schrader original prequel.

IMDB UK movie details.

My voting history on UK IMDB

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