Exorcist: The Beginning Reviews
Plenty of people are going so far as to deem the film downright ridiculous, and really, I don't think that it's that goofy, but it does get to be cheesy, with trite occasions in dialogue and questionable mythology spots, which are iffy enough on paper, without some glaring subtlety issues. Gratuitous overemphasis on gore and disturbing imagery, - made all that more problematic by spotty effects - some lame jump scares and even some histrionics mark particular lowlights in subtlety, but the film is never as sharply told as 1973's "The Exorcist", and the cheesy writing doesn't make Renny Harlin's job as director any easier. The film has moments that are, in fact, dumb, and make no mistake, there is too much fat around the edges to handle with all that much realization, because even though the film doesn't meander quite as much as they say, possibly because it manages to avoid the dry spells that plagued its predecessors, including the otherwise compelling "The Exorcist", a 114-minute runtime is not achieved very easily, as material gets to be draggy and repetitious, with too much exposition, which is still somehow a touch too limited. Well, I suppose characterization is well-rounded on paper, it's just that storytelling issues distance you a bit from the characters, who stand to be more disengaging, yet would have been more effective were it not for silliness, nor genericism for that matter. The film hardly does anything all that unique, and it slips deeper and deeper into clichés as it progresses, until you end up with a final product that is nothing short of predictable, even by its own right, with its being a prequel being taken out of consideration. Needless to say, conventionalism reflects a certain laziness in this film that never fully abates, because even though the final product is by no means the disaster that many are claiming it to be, questionable writing and storytelling bring it to the brink of mediocrity. Still, make no mistake, the film is still not as messy as they say, or at least it isn't to me, being seriously flawed and all, but with commendable elements, at least from an aesthetic standpoint.
There are some flat spots to Vittorio Storaro's cinematography, but definition is relatively crisp, and that's eye catching enough without sharp spots in sparse lighting plays that prove to be not only lovely, but compliment this thriller's tone, as well as Eugenio Ulissi's and Andy Nicholson's decent-looking, maybe somewhat immersive art direction. Outside of the aforementioned faulty visual effects, the film is technically and stylistically fair, offering some eye candy, even if it can't really step up its game when it comes to substance, which, even then, isn't as misguided as it could have been, and is to many of my fellow critics. Perhaps substance shortcomings are most found in the story concept's execution through Alexi Hawley's often messy script and Renny Harlin's more inspired, but still flawed direction, because this subject matter itself, while generic in plenty of areas, is pretty intriguing, juggling adventure mystery elements with religious thriller elements in a fashion that offers anything from fun ties to the "Exorcist" mythology that we recognize so well, to potential by its own right. Screenwriter Alexi Hawley, as I said a minute ago, doesn't do potential all that much justice, but his efforts are passable, while director Renny Harlin, in spite of his own considerable deal of flaws, does about as much as anyone in saving the decency of this messy final product which actually wouldn't be so messy without Harlin's faults, meeting plenty of subtlety issues with genuinely effective storytelling moments that play up disturbing, if a touch over-the-top imagery in order to establish some intensity, and offering atmospheric pacing that is actually kind of brisk. Really, if nothing else, it's sheer entertainment value that gets the film by, because even though film isn't as messy as they say, it's still seriously flawed, and such missteps go settled down a bit by a bit of a fun factor, backed by some storytelling highlights, anchored by decent performances. Acting material is seriously lacking in this part, but most everyone plays his or her part well, and that especially goes for Stellan Skarsgård, because even though Max von Sydow was seriously underused in "The Exorcist", he brought something to the Father Lankester Merrin character that Skarsgård does nothing but justice to, with charisma, as well as the occasional dramatic layer that offers more insight into a classic character who would have been more iconic were it not for ambiguities that Skarsgård fills a fair bit of. Even the performances stand to be stronger, but they're decent, enough so to help in getting the film by, and no matter how much the film challenges your investment, at least for me, it did enough right to entertain, in spite of misguided moments.
When the beginning has come to an end, you're left with an improvable prequel that, by its own right, is all but brought to the brink of mediocrity on the back of some cheesiness, plenty of subtlety issues, repetitious dragging, lapses in character engagement value, and conventionalism, but handsome cinematography, decent art direction, intriguing subject matter, sometimes effective and frequently entertaining direction, and decent acting - particularly by leading man Stellan Skarsgård - endear enough for "Exorcist: The Beginning" to entertain as a decent, if messy precursor to a classic thriller saga.
2.5/5 - Fair