Directed by Renny Harlin, starring Stellan Skarsgard, Izabella Scorupco, James D'Arcy and Remy Sweeney.

Horror films rarely fare well when it comes to spin-offs - witness 'A Nightmare on Elm Street', 'Friday the 13th', 'Halloween' and, of course, 'The Exorcist'. But the news that Paul Schrader, director of 'Auto Focus' and 'Affliction' and writer of 'Raging Bull' and 'Taxi Driver', would be in charge of 'The Exorcist' prequel was enough to make fans who had suffered the sequels '...The Heretic' and '...Legion' at least curious. However studio bosses were unhappy with Schrader's finished film and Renny Harlin, the director of 'Cliffhanger' and 'Die Hard 2', was brought in to shoot a new movie with a different script and only original star Stellan Skarsgard remaining. The nicest thing you can say about Harlin's film is that it will really make you want to see Schrader's.

After the horrors he witnessed in World War Two, Lankaster Merrin (Skarsgard, playing the younger version of Max von Sydow's character from the original film) has lost his faith, left the priesthood and returned to archaeology. While in Cairo he is approached by a stranger with an unusual offer of work. The British government is funding a dig in Kenya, where a
Byzantine church - buried after it was built - has been found. Now Merrin's new employer wants him to find a small sculpture in the church and hide it from those working at the site. And so begins Merrin's journey into terror and his first steps on the road to re-discovering his faith.

The plot is intriguing and the film begins promisingly (even knitting together some visual references from the original), but 'Exorcist: The Beginning' runs out of ideas long before good and evil square up for the final showdown. Wading through the corny dialogue and hammy support surrounding him, Skarsgard suitably underplays the lead role, but it's a performance for a better and more thought-provoking film. In this one Harlin opts
for gore, loud noise, CGI and well-foreseen scares that will only have horror fans on the edge of their seats if they're about to get up and leave.

Should they stick around they're in for a perverse treat with an unintentionally hilarious ending that suggests Harlin missed his calling to direct one of French and Saunders' spoofs or, better still, a sequel to 'Repossessed'.

Harry Guerin