When Father Lankester Merrin arrived to expunge a troublesome demon from Regan MacNeil in the original EXORCIST movie, many viewers were left cowering in fear. But questions remained as to the true identity of the mysterious Merrin, and how he rose to become such a potent force in the battle against demonic possession. For inquisitive fans still fervently pondering the unfathomable Merrin, help is at hand in the shape of this prequel film, EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING. In the post-World War II world, Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard) has seen his faith lapse due to some tumultuous firsthand experiences on the battlefield. Taking a lengthy sabbatical in an attempt to rekindle his belief, Merrin travels to East Africa. While there, he encounters an archaeological team who have uncovered a Byzantine-era church which, astonishingly, shows no visible signs of decay. Upon investigating the remarkable find, Merrin happens upon a crypt beneath the church, and inadvertently unleashes the same omnipotent demon that he duels with in the first EXORCIST movie. The local villagers unwittingly succumb to the powerful otherworldly force, and as chaos breaks out, Merrin experiences a cruel sense of irony when the very horrors he sought to escape engulf him once more.
Overcoming a difficult production that saw original director Paul Schrader ousted from the crew, Renny Harlin (DIE HARD 2) pulls out all the stops to deliver a creepy complimentary piece to the other EXORCIST movies. The casting of Skarsgard as the younger Merrin was a wise move, and neatly augments the work of fellow Swede Max Von Sydow in the first film. Working in the shadow of such a legendary movie is never easy, but Harlin manages to create a disquieting air of uneasy menace as he allows the tale to unfurl.
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