Monday, October 11, 2004


By Reymundo Salao
The Guardian, October 12, 2004

This was supposed to be one of my most anticipated movies for this year. Not until I learned of the bleak progression of the film's production. Not until the producers wanted to make drastic changes on this prequel to the 1973 horror classic The Exorcist (which had a 1977 sequel entitled Exorcist II: The Heretic, and the third in 1990 "Exorcist III"). Actually, "Exorcist: The Beginning" was originally set to be released July 2003. May I just add that this film has had such a bleak production; Originally, notable director John Frankenheimer (Ronin, Manchurian Candidate) was set to direct this movie, but he passed away due to complications in a back surgery, then there was another notable director, Paul Schrader, who has directed, co-directed, written, and co-written classics like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, Affliction, and Hardcore. Schrader assumed as director in early 2003, the film was going to have Liam Neeson as the young Father Merrin and among the cast even includes Fil-am actor Billy Crawford in one of the major roles. Director Schrader's approach is more on the psychological horror. A tale bent more on the deeper eeriness of the storyline rather than the visuals. Less on the revolving heads and shower vomits and more on the psychological shock. After all, this is the new millennia, we've been so desensitized by visual effects. Seeing revolving heads and levitation isn't going to scare horror-moviegoers anymore.

But just like the typical producer-pig twist of fate, things got ugly. A conflict "over a difference in opinion about the direction the prequel should take" (Greg Dean Schmitz). And so they got Renny Harlin (who directed Cutthroat Island, Deep Blue Sea, and Driven) to replace Schrader. Obviously, the producers wanted the film to be loaded with flashy visuals since Harlin is noted for eye candies. The cut and shots Schrader did were bagged for a DVD release, and the entire film was reshot, that would include re-casting, which has obviously put Billy Crawford off the cast (he doesn't seem to be a good actor anyway). And so, the result was that Exorcist: The Beginning became nothing more than another crappy visuals-dependent horror flick.

Right from the beginning of the film, at just seeing the early seconds of it, the horror is diminished by the quality of film used. I am not so scientifically familiar with the types of films used in filmmaking, but the one used in this film is that of the kind of film that has an intense and vibrant clarity, that watching through the film seemed like it anticipates a movie of large scale budget. You may have noticed the kind of film and lighting used in Sixth Sense, which has sort of a 1960's blur from the camera and the lighting. Such scenes delivered through this type of film and lighting evokes a simple and serene atmosphere which is a perfect set-up for a horror story. Same with the film and lighting effects of films like (the almost-lightless films) "Unbreakable", "Se7en", and the raw DV-cam effects of "Collateral". The clarity of film used on "Exorcist: The Beginning", on the otherhand, is the type of clarity in movies like Bad Boys and The Mummy. Too colorful, too radiant.

Dispensing with the film-factor, the movie had a fairly-good storyline set-up. Archaeological diggings discover a church built over an unholy place where, it is believed, the place where Lucifer fell after the war in heaven. A place where, centuries ago, a great number of crusaders died, killing each other for they have been "touched by the devil". The character of Fr. Merrin (well-played by Stellan Skarsgard) was also good; a priest whose experience with the Nazis led to the straying of his faith. Kind of cliché, but it was fine. For some moments, the story seemed okay. Then came the CGI (Computer Generated Imagery; animation) hyenas. Must you really have the hyena scenes computer-generated? The now generation can already tell the difference of a CGI scene from the real-deal scene, with the exception of those done in almost flawless manner. And the scene where the hyenas feast upon a child was obviously a badly-made CGI. That scene looked like something out of Clash of the Titans. CGI diminishes the realism of the film, and removes the scary appeal a scene would have. In a good horror movie, the general rule is "less is more"

Then there came the dumb dialogues. When Merrin says they "found an altar where sacrifices where made", you could spell out that the next thing he says is "…Human sacrifices" There's the cliché horror scenes. The inverted crosses and the swarm of ugly flies were out of "Amytiville Horror." The funniest part was when Merrin, at the altar, standing over the dead priest, picks up the bottle of Holy water and "decides" to be a priest again in order to fight Lucifer, and there was this ultra-corny "heroic" music played, and the music is so tackily in-synched with the scene just like a scene on a laundry soap commercial when the actress would use the advertised soap.

The final "battle" was sort of dumb also. It looked like an end-level of a video game with chase scenes in the caverns and "snatch the kid" scenes between Merrin and the possessed, rather than the kind of scene you would expect from a prequel to the scariest movie of all time. Then there's that scene before "Lucifer got busted" where the possessed is running through a long cavern path towards Merrin. This is the scene where you ask "What the fart was THAT?" It did not make sense.

The movie was SO NOT scary at all. All it ever tried to do to get close to being a horror film was to cheaply resort to scenes of violence against children. This is what happens when shallow-minded producers control their films in their own marketing image. Director Renny Harlin would comfortably find a home among our local giant film outfits; Viva, Regal, Star. Exorcist: The Beginning is such an ignorant horror film that would belong among such badly-made horrors like Sanib, Crow: Salvation, and the Shake, Rattle & Roll sequels.

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