Monday, July 6, 2009

Exorcist: The Beginning


Continuity is the thing that allows one idea to follow another in a movie series or TV show. It is that wonderful thing that allows writers and directors and producers to say, “Remember that thing that happened sixteen hours ago? That throwaway line, that scene that seemed to have meaning, but didn’t at the time?

“Now it does.”

In the case of “The Exorcist,” That Thing is Merrin’s time in Africa, when he encounters the devil (or Pazuzu, or something-or-other) and fights him/her/it off for the first time.

In the original film, we’re told that it took a long time for Merrin to exorcise it, and that it almost killed him. But that’s not, as they say, the whole story.

The whole story is told in “Exorcist: The Beginning.” Or maybe not.

Because technically, they already told that story in “Exorcist II: Complete Fiasco.”

You could argue that everyone is just pretending that II never happened, only there’s one problem with that – III exists, and it’s called III. That issue could have easily been avoided, too, because III wasn’t originally an “Exorcist” movie at all. It was based on a novel called “Legion,” which was supposed to be the original title of the movie.

Of course, they figured no one would want to see a movie called “Legion,” and they figured that people were too dumb to figure out the connection on their own, so they changed the title to “The Exorcist III,” when they should have called it “The Exorcist: Legion,” so they could pretend there never was a II.

But no, there’s a II. So that means that this prequel directly contradicts everything that happened in part II. If you want to talk about Merrin in African, this is how it happened…

Only this wasn’t the first prequel, either. Another prequel, “Dominion,” was completed, but the studio didn’t like it. So they reshot it and released it as “Exorcist: The Beginning.” Then they went ahead and released “Dominion” anyway.

Thus leaving the world with three different versions of Merrin’s time in Africa.

Does anyone else think that’s excessive?

Since this was the movie that was released to theaters and got some sort of advertising budget, I guess this makes it the real true story of Merrin. Let’s watch!

As the movie begins, the sun rises somewhere with a lot of sand, and we see a fellow walking along who, based on his dry, cracked lips, could use a drink of water. And some chapstick.

The man is dressed in robes and walking in and around several dead bodies, all dressed like knights. He stoops down when he spots a statue in the hand of one of the dead. He picks it up, and the “dead” man grabs him and says something we can’t really hear.

If you hadn’t guessed, the statue in question is the same one from the start of “The Exorcist.” It’s the head of Pazuzu.

The man who could really go for a refreshing beverage right now stands up, turns around, and the camera pans back and back and back and back to show us row after row of soldiers, who have all been crucified upside-down.

This would probably be a lot more creepy if it wasn’t so hyper-kinetically CGI-esque.

The movie then jumps forward in time to Cairo, Egypt – 1949.

The camera follows someone in a brown robe down a market street, and into a bar. The dude in the brown robe is a kid, who tries to sell someone some small something-or-other. Given the fact that the someone is drinking heavily, I’m going to guess that the fellow in question is Merrin.

Though I’ve got to wonder where his pills are. He’s just not Merrin without the pills.

Because the movie wants us to think that Merrin is a nice guy, he gives the kid a little money and sends him on his way.

Another guy walks into the bar and tells Merrin that his name is Semelier. I’m kind of saddened by this, because that doesn’t sound like a Jewish name, and I was really hoping to pull out a few “A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar…” jokes.

Semelier tells Merrin that a church, circa 5 AD, has been found in East Africa. Merrin says that this is impossible, and explains why. However, for some reason he doesn’t offer the most obvious explanation in the world – Jesus would have been five years old at the time, so it’s highly doubtful there were any Christians to build a church.

But we’re going to let that go.

Semelier whips out a bit more exposition. We learn that Merrin “used to be” a priest before the war. Apparently, something “happened.” Also, it appears that Merrin is an archeologist.

The former priest is one bullwhip away from being Indiana Jones. Come to think of it, “Indiana Jones and Pazuzu” couldn’t be much more silly than “Crystal Skull” was.

Semelier informs us, and Merrin, that he wants to pay Merrin to go the church and bring back an object. That they somehow know is in there. He passes an envelope of money over the table, along with a leather representation of the object they’re looking for.

Merrin notes that it’s Sumerian ???.

There’s some back-and-forth about whether or not Merrin is going to join the dig, but honestly, if he didn’t, there wouldn’t be much of a movie. So let.s move on.

Merrin heads to the British Army Headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. We learn about the dig, which is in Derati, and we’re introduced to Father Francis, who is very pleased to meet Father Merrin. He’s all pumped about talking shop until Merrin shuts him down by telling Francis he’s no longer a man of the cloth.

One tidbit of info that’ll probably be important later: The Vatican has no records of the church they’re about to dig up.

And with that, the boys are off and running.

Merrin meets the head of the dig, and the movie tries to offer up a little suspense by saying that the top of the church has been uncovered, but that the few diggers that have remained are afraid to go inside.

A nice young lady-doctor is on hand to inform Merrin that people won’t go inside the church because of evil spirits.

Merrin and Francis head to the dig site, and start looking into things. Merrin notes that church looks “new,” almost as if it were buried right after it was built.

Merrin goes to tell Chuma, a driver/translator that they need to find the fellow who can let them into the church, and Chuma is just about ready to help when one of the diggers falls down and starts crying out and foaming at the mouth.

Oh, and also, the place is surrounded by hyenas, which are there both day and night. So if you haven’t guessed whether or not the place is evil yet, well, I’ll give you a minute to think about it.

Chuma takes Merrin and Francis down inside the church, and they walk around and get scared by bats. Francis notes that all the weapons are pointing downward instead of up towards heaven, and that a giant crucifix has been snapped off at the base and hung upside-down.

The church has been vandalized.

Merrin asks to speak to the head archeologist, Bession. Chuma tells him he can’t, because Bession has gone mad.

Chuma takes Merrin to Bession’s tent. Where Bession isn’t, as Bession is currently in a sanitarium.

Bession’s tent’s back wall has several drawings on it, all of which are kind of creepy, but nothing you’d see outside of a 10th grade art class where some of the kids are fans of heavy metal.

Merrin asks Chuma if Bession spoke Aramaic – there are words written on the tent: “The fallen shall rise in a river of blood.”

Yep, definitely a 10th grade metal fan.

Merrin goes to visit the doctor, whose name is Sarah. He asks if she treated Bession, and she says that he had a mental issue she couldn’t do anything about.

We also learn that Sarah’s father hid Jews in their house during the war, and her entire family was turned in and sent to the camps. Later, Sarah got married, and when she told her husband what happened to her, he, in her words, “Never touched me again.”

Now, not to be insensitive, but this sob story makes no sense. It gives Sarah an interesting backstory, yes. But it also means that she married a guy who never noticed the tattoo on her arm. Or, if he did, he just went, “Oh, you were in a concentration camp. That’s too bad. Let us never speak of it.”

Sarah asks Merrin about his past as well, but the movie decides to keep us in the dark a little while longer.

Merrin goes back to his room, and starts looking at the drawings. One of them is a picture of Pazuzu.

Merrins’ brain presses the flashback button, and he remembers a time when he stood by while a Nazi shot a little girl in the head. For reasons that are really, really unclear.

Merrin kinda-sorta comes out of his trance and flips out.

Elsewhere, two young brothers argue over a digging tool. This lasts right up until the really, really poorly CGI-ed hyenas show up and start tearing the older brother apart while the younger one looks on.

A few people run out in an attempt to help, and Merrin takes a shotgun and shoots a couple of the hyenas. But the older boy is dragged off.

The younger one, who has been standing by, not saying or doing anything, falls into a dead faint.

Later, Sarah examines the boy while Merrin looks on. Francis races in and reminds everyone that the hyenas acted as if the young boy wasn’t even there. If a large neon sign popped on right at this point that said, “Hmmm,” the movie could not telegraph this moment any more.

Merrin goes to visit Bession in the sanitarium. Bession is sitting at a desk in his VERY large room, facing away from Merrin. Merrin tries to ask Bession some questions, but then Bession says Merrin’s name.

The door slams shut behind Merrin. He looks at the floor under where Bession is sitting, and sees blood pooling there. Merrin asks if Bession is hurt. Bession, who is sitting around in his underpants, says, “No,” then stands up and turns around, revealing he has carved a swastika on his chest.

Bession then says, “God is not here today, priest,” which is exactly what the Nazi said before he shot the little girl in the head.

Then Bession cuts his own throat while Merrin just stands there. Doing nothing. A couple of nurses, or doctors, or maybe other patients run and watch Bession die. Behind them is the priest who runs the sanitarium.

The priest who runs the sanitarium informs Merrin that Bession was “touched by the devil,” but notes that Bession was not possessed. He gives Merrin a copy of The Roman Rituals and says, essentially, “You’re going to need this.”

Merrin reminds him that he’s not a priest any more. He’s told he will always be a priest. I guess the priesthood is like the Mafia.

Elsewhere, we get a short dream sequence from Doctor Sarah, who dreams that she’s working on some papers (whoa!) when a wind kicks up and blows them off the table (evil!) and a hyena walks by her front door. She walks into the next room to check on the sick boy, only he’s sitting on the floor with his brother’s head in his lap.

The head opens its eyes, and Sarah wakes up.

And discovers that the dude heading up the dig is lying in bed next to her.

I swear that if Sarah wakes up a second time, I’m just going to start screaming.

There are some accusations about a necklace thrown around, and then the sick boy comes into Sarah’s room and says, “He’s coming for you.” Creepy dude takes off with no further discussion, and the boy says, “I had a bad dream.”

Merrin arrives back at the village, and goes to visit the hospital. He sees the boy lying there, asleep, and discovers that the boy has some lesions on his chest.

Sarah comes out and says she doesn’t know were the lesions are coming from, and says that all she can do is watch and wait. Merrin asks if she’s going to be okay, because he has to do some work at the dig.

Even though it’s the middle of the night, and there are a bunch of killer hyenas on the loose. The man is dedicated.

Sarah first says she’s fine, and then changes her mind and asks Merrin to sit with her. She asks how Bession is doing, and Merrin says he’s dead. When she asks how it happened, he replies that it was “some kind of accident.”

I guess Bession didn’t realize that object he was holding to his own throat was super sharp. Happens to the best of us.

Sarah says, “I just don’t understand anything that’s happening here.” Frankly, she can get in line.

Sarah and Merrin kiss, which might be kind of sweet if the camera didn’t cut away to blood flowing up into the boy’s IV.

Since it’s been nearly a minute since the last freaky thing happened, the boy’s bed shifts forward three feet, and then the boy has a freaky-rattle-y thing happen.

But Merrin will not be swayed – the man must work. So he heads to the church in the middle of the night.

Merrin wanders about the church while crows flap around, being all crow-like and occasionally eating each other in order to raise the gore factor of the movie.

After a bit of wandering he discovers that a coffin hewn from rock has a breeze blowing from inside it. It’s not a coffin at all – it’s a doorway to a hidden passage.

He grabs a crowbar and starts yanking up the lid, not at all concerned about destroying a priceless artifact or, say, calling for help or letting anyone know where he’s going.

Shots of Merrin cracking open the “coffin,” by the way, are intercut with shots of a local woman giving birth to a dead, maggot-covered baby.

Merrin heads down into the completely uncharted cavern in the middle of the night with a single lantern and no one around to help him should he, say, trip and break an ankle. His lamp goes out, he re-lights it, and there, RIGHT BEHIND HIM, is a statue of Pazuzu.

Merrin spits a leopard… no, no. He doesn’t do that. At all. Instead, he goes to examine the statue, and discovers that there’s a big hole where the heart would be. Kind of like a recent president I could name.

Merrin turns around, and lots and lots of CGI flies go buzzing past him.

The movie takes a side trip to go visit the doctor and pals. Which is the say, the doctor and her little charge, who she gives some sort of injection for some reason, while outside the head of the dig sits around looking all freaky.

Throughout the movie he’s had what appeared to be an infection in his face, but now, suddenly, it’s gotten really bad. There’s blood and CGI-enhanced pus. He heads off to find some booze, and he’s attacked by something in the dark. I guess. It’s sort of unclear.

Sarah heads off to take a shower. Really. She scrubs up, and right after, the power goes off and she gets to wander around her house/hospital in a towel while carrying a candle.

The towel reaches her ankles, by the way, and is probably capable of drying a family of four.

Sarah wanders through the building until the power suddenly comes back on, scaring her. She looks back from whence she came and sees blood. A lot of blood. She looks down and, sure enough, it’s coming from her.

Time to use your imagination folks, I’m not spelling everything out for you.

Sarah goes to speak to Merrin, and tells her that the Nazis did something to her that prevents her from ever bleeding in that way again. She also tells him that there’s something evil in the camp.

Merrin, in turn, tells Sarah that the church was built on top of a pagan temple.

Merrin goes to bed and has another Nazi dream, and when he wakes up Francis grabs him and says, basically, “Hey, the head of the dig is missing, come to the bar and I’ll show you what they found!”

And what they found was a bunch of hair and teeth. In addition to a bunch of locals sitting around, looking sinister.

Francis tells Merrin that the father of the stillborn baby blames the whites for the kid’s death. Francis has called their contact in the army, and the Calvary is coming that afternoon.

Merrin, in turn has a driver take him to a grave site some distance away, where the complete population of another village is buried. And he asks the logical question: “If everyone is dead, who buried them?”

Not asked by the driver is, “Was it really necessary to make me haul you all the way out here so you could walk around for two minutes and ask a stupid question?”

(Or maybe he did. The only answer Merrin could possibly offer being, “I’m an archeologist. I do my best thinking standing on dead people.”)

The Calvary arrives. It seems that the British army is instituting marshal law, because the dig is too important to jeopardize.

Too important to whom and for what reason is anybody’s guess.

Merrin goes to visit one of the leaders of the local tribe, and a few things get reiterated. Essentially, the tribe thinks that the church is evil and it needs to be buried again. Also, we learn that the tribe cremates their dead.

“So who is buried in the graveyard?” asks Merrin. His driver does not answer.

Merrin heads out to the graveyard. At night. Alone. To dig up some graves. Though this time I understand it, as I’m sure his driver said, “You know what? I am NOT going back there. We were JUST THERE.”

Merrin gets busy with his shovel while hyenas drop by for a visit.

Intercut with this, the young boy gets tied to the bed by his father and a bunch of villagers. They chant over him, pull off his shirt, and stick some leaches on him. Sarah runs out trying to figure out what’s going on, and they restrain her.

One of the tribesman raises a knife, the lights flicker, and the room starts to shake. Two of the tribesman are hideously injured, as if by magic, or possibly by the power of an ancient evil.

Francis races in, and does nothing but get shoved over as the tribesmen run screaming from the hospital.

Merrin continues to dig, going into flashback mode. The solider who shot the girl, apparently, gave him a choice first: “I will shoot ten, priest, and you will choose.”

That’s when the soldier shot the girl.

“Now you choose. Or I will kill them all,” says the soldier.

Merrin tells the solider to shoot him. The solider grabs a young boy and prepares to fire.

Merrin starts pointing at people and the solider shoots them, one by one.

It’s actually a pretty powerful scene, and could work very well, in a movie that doesn’t feature silly CGI-enas.

Back in the “modern” day, Merrin finally reaches a coffin, opens it up, and discovers… nothing. The coffins are empty.

He attacks Father Francis, and asks what happened – the graves all have crosses on them, and so do the coffins.

Francis says that the place is damned, and then iiit’s storytime!

“There was a massacre here, 1500 years ago. An army from the West, led by two priests, searching for the origin of a powerful evil. But when they got here that evil consumed them, turning the soldiers against each other in a bloodbath. Only a single priest survived…”

That priest went home, and the Church had a church built over the site and then buried, to, I dunno, plug up the evil I guess. And then all mention of the church were to be “stricken from the history texts forever.”

I have no idea how you do that. That sounds like a lot of work.

At any rate, someone slacked off, and fifty years earlier a Vatican researcher found a letter talking about the church. Four men came to check out the church, and vanished, along with the nearby village they hired to help out.

So the Vatican covered it up, building an empty graveyard and making up a story about a plague.

All was going well until the British found the church.

And! Wait for it… Francis was sent here to see if the legends were real. “After the war in heaven, this is the spot where Lucifer fell.”

Wow. Just wow.

Then a bunch of events happen, one after the other.

Francis tries to convince Merrin that the boy has the devil in him. He says he needs Merrin’s help.

Chuma shows up and says they found the guy who was running the dig.

Chuma and Merrin go to the dig site, and there, inside the church, is the guy running the dig. Only he’s tied up in a standing position, and most of where his innards should be is gone.

Unfortunately, the head of the British army is also there, and he runs out and shoots the head of the local tribe square in the noggin.

There’s a tussle, and Chuma tells Merrin that they need to do something about the possessed kid. So Merrin takes off.

Following this, we get a scene where the head of the British army sits in his tent and loses his marbles. This lasts about a minute, and features dead butterflies stuck to corkboard flapping their wings, a dead crow, and a live butterfly crawling out of the dude’s mouth. He sticks a gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger.

Merrin arrives at the hospital and tells Francis to take the boy to the head of the sanitarium. Only there’s a huge sandstorm coming, so Francis takes the boy to the church while Merrin goes to find Sarah.

Francis gets the boy to the church and gets ready to fire up the exorcism ritual.

Out in the middle of nowhere, the British hunker down and get ready to go into battle with the local population. I suppose I could have mentioned that earlier, but dude, that plot-line is just going nowhere fast.

Merrin keeps looking for Sarah, eventually breaking into her bedroom and finding it covered in blood – with a statue of Pazuzu stuck to the wall.

Merrin searches the room and finds a picture of Sarah and her husband. It seems that Bession, the crazy guy, was her husband.

Chuma arrives, and Merrin asks if Sarah went into the church with Bession. She did. Merrin looks shocked. “It’s not Joseph,” he says, Joseph being the little boy everyone thinks is possessed. “It’s Sarah.”

My immediate thoughts:

a) Huh. Merrin kissed Satan.
b) Dude! Merrin kissed Satan!
c) This movie also seems to have no idea about who Pazuzu is. I’m starting to wonder if, in fact, I’m the only guy who ever watched all these movies and did the research and actually learned about the existence of Pazuzu.
d) Come to think of it, what happened to the plot point about Merrin working for what’s-his-face, at the start of the movie? Remember that guy? Arranged for Merrin to be here? Anyone? And did Merrin ever find the object those dudes were looking for? We’re rapidly running out of movie, here.
e) Sarah being possessed is clearly supposed to be a big twist of some sort. Only, instead, it makes you go, “Oh, I didn’t realize I was watching a mystery. Um, I guess you got me there, movie. Way to fool me.”

Back at the church, Francis starts exorcising the boy. When who should appear, but Sarah. Her eyes roll back in her head, and he makes with the stabbing of Francis.

Elsewhere, the British army, a bunch of dudes with guns, prepare to fight the local tribesman, who have bows and arrows.

And at the hospital, Chuma and Merrin run outside, when out of the shadows comes a tribesman with a spear. Chuma shoots the guy and gets a spear to the chest.

Back at The British Vs. the Tribesman, things start to fall apart, as everyone pretty much starts killing everyone, friend or foe. Clearly the evil has taken over. Or no one can see anything in the sandstorm. Or the movie’s director just forgot who was on what side and said, “Can we do a shot where a dude gets an axe to the head. That’d be awesome!”

Merrin goes to the church, where he finds bloody footprints, and that’s pretty much it. He picks up Francis’s crucifix off the floor, along with the book of rituals. He asks God for forgiveness of his disbelief, and says that all the people in the area need Him.

What’s painful is, the fellow playing Merrin a good actor. Maybe even a great one. He does some nice work here. But it’s clear that the director and the guy writing the score have no idea how to make the moment work, so they go with, “Well, let’s underscore it with Swelling Uplifting Music 101 and hopefully people will feel an emotional stirring.”

But no. Mostly we feel like Merrin is ready to go pick up a gun and shoot him some Satan.

And I must mention, because it will be important – he takes some holy water and draws a cross on his forehead.

Merrin stands up, turns around, and there’s the boy – and standing above him, balanced on the upside-down crucifix, is Sarah, in full-on possession mode.

Taunting occurs on both sides, and Sarah walks over to Merrin. Finally, Merrin has had enough, and he grabs Sarah and holds her head against his holy-water-crossed forehead.

She screams and throws him across the room.

Then she drags the boy down into the coffin that leads under the church.

Merrin follows. He sees creepy stuff. Francis tumbles down from the ceiling in front of him in serial-killer-movie fashion. Making it even more obvious that the director of this film is not aware that Satan and Jason Voorhees are not really the same thing.

Merrin goes deeper and deeper into various catacombs and tunnels, until finally he’s almost trapped inside one. Then his lamp goes out. Of course. So he lights it, and… yep. There’s Sarah.

There is slashing and fighting, and somehow Sarah tosses him out of the little tunnel and into a larger cave. She sits on top of him and taunts him some more. He touches his priestly scarf to her face, and she flies across the room, landing on the ceiling.

She crawls away, and moments later emerges with Joseph in tow. Threatening words are uttered. Merrin grabs the boy, pushes him aside, and grabs Sarah into a bear hug/grapple, uttering something sort of ritualistic the whole time. Sarah stops being possessed. Josesh walks away.

Joseph is the smartest guy in the movie.

Sarah goes back to being possessed, and giving Merrin the beating of a lifetime.

Merrin ends up on the floor next to Joseph, and decides to enlist his help. So Merrin starts reciting passages, and Joseph’s job is to walk beside him and recite the written responses.

The two of head down a very, very, very long tunnel, so that Sarah, who is WAY down at the far end, can run at them in slow motion while Merrin just keeps on screaming recitations, culmination in: “In God’s name, demon, I caaast yooou ouuut!”

Sarah, who is about an inch away and running full bore, suddenly stops as though an invisible linebacker had hit her, and she falls over onto the ground.

It should be pointed out that, at this point, Merrin has maybe two scratches on his face and isn’t even breathing hard. So outside of some minor physical discomfort, this exorcism did not almost kill him.

Merrin bends down to check on Sarah, and everything seems okay until a whooole lot of blood suddenly flows out the back of her head, and she dies.

Merrin says some stuff over her in Latin, and gives her a hug while Joseph looks on.

A short time later, Merrin digs himself and the boy of the sand. The church has once again been buried.

As they step out into the sun, they look around – dead bodies are everywhere.

As the movie wraps up, Merrin meets up with Semelier (hey, the movie DID remember he exists), who asks if Merrin found what they were looking for.

Merrin gives him back the leather representation, but not the money, and says, nope, he couldn’t find it.

Semelier basically says, oh, well, okay, goodbye Mr. Merrin. And Merrin says, “It’s Father Merrin.”

And then he walks away. While we all wonder what became of Joseph, since his entire tribe is dead.


  1. Make sure you watch Dominion, because it is the better of the prequels, in both Jim and I's opinions... :)


  2. In witch of these prequels there is a kid's death scene ?