Follow TV Tropes


Film / Exorcist: The Beginning

Go To
"I was sent here to see if the legend was real."
"What legend?"
"That after the War in Heaven, this is the spot where Lucifer fell."

Exorcist: The Beginning is a 2004 Religious Horror film. As hinted by the subtitle, it is a Prequel to the 1973 film The Exorcist.

Cairo, Egypt, 1949. A young Father Lankester Merrin (Stellan Skarsgård) has left the Church and become an archeologist, haunted by his experiences in Nazi-occupied Europe during the Second World War. He is then approached by a mysterious collector who hires him to travel to Kenya and steal an ancient relic of a demon from a British archaeological dig... in an ancient church from a time and place where there shouldn't be any. Needless to say, once Merrin reaches his destination, strange events start happening.

This chapter of The Exorcist remains as one of the most bizarre troubled productions in film history. Originally Paul Schrader was brought to direct a psychological horror movie in the vein of the original; he did his job and almost completed what was called Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. However, as the movie was being marketed, Morgan Creek Productions decided it was not scary enough to fit expectations, so they tossed the unfinished film to a vault and brought an entirely new director, Renny Harlin, to direct an entirely new movie. This was the final result, a retooling named Exorcist: The Beginning that only shared Skarsgard as the main role and the outlines of its plot. Only after it failed at critics and box office they allowed Schrader to finish and release his film, edging the previous in success and giving birth to the strange event of two films in one.

Exorcist: The Beginning contains examples of:

    open/close all folders 
    Tropes A-G 
  • The '40s: Set three decades before the original, which was set at the time it came out in The '70s.
  • Abnormal Limb Rotation Range: While possessed by Pazuzu, Sarah bends her spine backwards completely.
  • Actionized Sequel: Exorcist the Beginning is an actionized prequel to the 1973 horror classic, as well as an actionized remake/reshoot to Schrader's Dominion, since it has a noticeably faster pace, as well as an elaborate battle scene with a huge body count.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: Unlike Dominion, the film doesn't explain why Merrin was in the Netherlands during World War Two (or makes evident that he was in the Netherlands).
  • Adventurer Archaeologist: Merrin becomes an archaeologist for hire after leaving the Church.
  • Airvent Passageway: The passage leading to the final cave underground is exactly big enough to let Merrin crawl through it.
  • The Alcoholic: Jefferies is almost always seen drinking, reaching to drink, or appearing to be drunk.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Sarah ignores Jefferies' advances and is obviously more interested in Merrin, who obliges, but is reluctant to begin a relationship due to his recent commitment to the Church.
  • All Just a Dream: Sarah finding Joseph caressing his brother's decapitated head is just a nightmare of hers.
  • Almost Dead Guy:
    • One of the Byzantine priests in the beginning finds the other in the battlefield. Believing him dead, he makes the sign of the cross and tries to take the Pazuzu head from him before the "dead" guy grabs him.
    • Sarah can only trade a few words with Merrin before she dies from her injuries.
  • Aloof Big Brother: James to Joseph.
  • All There in the Manual: In Dominion, Merrin's encounter with the Nazis takes place in a Dutch village, and the woman that gives birth is the Turkana chief's wife. It is unclear if it's the same in The Beginning due to the exposition being cut.
  • Ambiguously Evil: It is just as possible that all questionable behavior of the characters is a result of Pazuzu's influence, or that Pazuzu only amplifies tendencies that are already inside them.
  • Ancient Evil: The Catholic Church believes Derati is the place where Lucifer fell. Even if Pazuzu isn't Lucifer, he is an ancient Mesopotamian demon, and the church was built to seal him 1500 years ago.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The movie ends with Merrin using the Father moniker again before heading into the Vatican.
  • Anyone Can Die: Only Merrin and Joseph survive the massacre between the locals and the British military.
  • Arc Words: "God is not here today, priest." Said by a SS commander during the war to Merrin, and repeated by Pazuzu to taunt him.
  • Ascended to Carnivorism: Due to Pazuzu's influence, some cows feed on hyena carcasses after the massacre at the end.
  • Asshole Victim: Even if all evil activity at the site comes from Pazuzu, some examples still come across as this.
    • Major Granville is openly racist toward the Turkana.
    • Jefferies' interest in Sarah is as obvious as rape-y.
    • James is a bit of a jerk to his younger brother. Not that he deserves what happens to him because of that.
  • Ate His Gun: After Granville witnesses supernatural activity in his tent in the form of finding himself preparing a crow for his butterfly collection instead of a regular insect specimen, his collection coming to life and then having butterfly crawling out of his mouth, he puts his gun into his mouth and pulls the trigger.
  • Big Bad: Pazuzu, just like in all other movies in the series.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: Merrin finds and opens an ancient tomb inside the church at the same time as a Turkana woman gives birth to a child. The child is born dead.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: Blood and guts are deliberatedly ramped up in comparison to Dominion, starting with the very first scene set in the aftermath of a battle with almost no survivors on both sides. This is the bloodiest entry in the series by a long shot.
  • Book Ends:
    • The movie opens with a Byzantine army massacred on the future site of the buried church, which is mirrored at the end by the Turkana and British garrison massacring each other in the same place.
    • Merrin meets Semelier only at the beginning and the end of the movie.
  • Body Horror: All over the place.
    • One of Pazuzu's pet taunts is an eviscerated but still alive crow. The second time it happens, he also makes a butterfly crawl out of Granville's mouth. Other favorites are blood and maggots appearing from nowhere.
    • James is Eaten Alive by hyenas.
    • Jefferies develops larger and nastier looking pustules on his face as the movie goes on, with one appearing to have something crawling inside at one point. He is then attacked by an unseen force; the next morning, Merrin finds parts of his teeth in a pool of blood in the bar, and his eviscerated body hanging in the church.
    • Sarah has a particularly bloody period while in the shower... despite having lost her period for good in a Nazi camp.
    • Sarah finds Joseph carrying his brother's severed head. Which then opens his eyes. But it's okay, it was just a dream!
    • A Turkana woman gives birth to a dead fetus covered in maggots.
    • The possessed tears its own tongue to mimic a snake.
    • The Turkana shamans who try to sacrifice Joseph have their bones broken and sometimes ripped out of their bodies.
  • Cain and Abel: Played with brothers James and Joseph, the only two Christian children in Derati. The older James seems mean-spirited in comparison to the younger, innocent Joseph, until he is eaten by hyenas while Joseph watches. Double Subverted when it's revealed that the possessed is not Joseph, but Sarah, and therefore she's the one who summoned the hyenas. Pazuzu did it, in any case.
  • Call-Back: Many to the original The Exorcist. Most (if not all) were added after Dominion was filmed, in order to tie the movie better with the first.
    • Merrin is hired to find the same Pazuzu head as in the first film's prologue (or one that looks the same), but loses it when it buries itself in the ground during a sandstorm. In the original Exorcist, Merrin unearths the Pazuzu head during a sandstorm.
    • Merrin also finds a complete Pazuzu statue under the church, in a cave that used to be a Pagan temple. This statue is identical to the one in the original movie, while in Dominion it just loosely resembled it.
    • Sarah's scars, voice, and general appearance in the end is clearly meant to evoke Regan. Pazuzu even drops a "the whore is mine", similar to the original's "the sow is mine".
    • When offered a drink, Merrin says "I shouldn't, but my will is weak", paraphrasing the original film's "My doctor says I shouldn't, but thank God my will is weak."
    • Merrin's final showdown with Pazuzu takes place during a sandstorm. In the beginning of the 1973 film, he meets Pazuzu again during a sandstorm.
    • Merrin's outfit in the last scene resembles the one he wears in the cover of The Exorcist.
  • Canon Discontinuity: Zig-Zagged. The movie largely ignores Merrin's backstory as shown in Exorcist II: The Heretic, but doesn't contest it outright, as it is set before it. In all likelihood, both movies took the idea of Merrin carrying an exorcism in East Africa from the original book and did their own take on it.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Sarah after dreaming of Joseph caressing James' severed head.
  • Cat Scare: The characters are surprised several times by crows.
  • Chekhov's Gun: When Merrin visits Bession in Nairobi, Father Gionetti gives him a copy of the Roman Ritual in case he has to exorcize somebody. Merrin says he won't need it... but of course he does, because this is an Exorcist sequel.
  • Children Are Innocent: Pazuzu uses the young Joseph to lure, taunt, and hurt the people he wants to hurt the most.
  • Christianity is Catholic:
    • The Byzantine army that died in the area is said to have come from "the West" and the Vatican is the only vaguely aware of its existence, despite Constantinople (and the name-dropped Emperor, Justinian) having preeminence over Christians at the time.
    • Though the church's architecture and wall paintings do resemble Byzantine art, the statues are much more in line with Western art from the Renaissance on. The Byzantine priests in the beginning correctly use the Chi-Rho instead of the Cross, but the rosary looks more Catholic than Greek.
    • Finding a church from that age in that place would presumably interest every Christian church the same (and also scholars of every stripe), but all priests in the movie are Catholic. Catholics do exist in Kenya and are in fact the oldest Christian denomination in the country, but they are dwarfed in numbers by Protestants due to the British colonization.
  • Church Militant: The Vatican has sent at least three expeditions headed by priests to the site, the last one consisting of Father Francis. The first one in the 6th century was outright army.
  • Composite Character:
    • In Dominion, it is not clear if the demon is Pazuzu or someone else, while in Beginning a lot of references are added to establish that it is indeed Pazuzu, as in the 1973 movie. Pazuzu may also be Lucifer if Father Francis is correct, though this is in line with the rest of the other movies in the franchise flip-flopping on whether Pazuzu is a devil or the Devil.
    • Jefferies takes over from Merrin as head archaeologist of the site, and also plays the role of the soldiers who try to rob the church and are killed for it (somewhat).
    • Granville combines his character in Dominion with his Adapted Out second-in-command, who was the racist one.
  • Corrupt Church: The Catholic Church knows, or at leats suspects, the truth about the buried church and hides it from the public. Ultimately for good, but the trope is still present.
  • Creepy Child:
    • Joseph, who seems to attract bad luck everywhere he is present. Subverted since the one actually possessed is Sarah, the doctor.
    • Merrin often daydreams about a little girl he met during the war, which is used by Pazuzu to taunt him.
  • Creepy Crows: Crows like to fly into and out of the cursed church, and are obviously attracted to the carnage.
  • Cut Character: The Turkana chief and Granville's second in command don't appear in this version.
  • The Darkness Gazes Back: In one scene, Merrin is stopped on his tracks by the reflection of several hyenas eyes peering out from the darkness.
  • Decapitation Presentation: In a dream sequence, Sarah finds Joseph caressing James' severed head. Which then opens its eyes.
  • Demonic Possession: Sarah at the end. It wouldn't be a part of the franchise without one, would it?
  • The Devil: The church has a painting of Lucifer and he is believed to have fallen in Derati after the War in Heaven.
  • Disposable Woman: Near the end of the film, Sarah is brought back from her exorcism and she's the only character left besides Merrin and Joseph. In any other film she would probably adopt Joseph and form a family with Merrin, but we can't have that because this is a prequel to The Exorcist and Merrin must become a priest again. Therefore she's suddenly revealed to have a fatal head wound from her fall on the cave floor and dies in Merrin's arms instead.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Despite being main characters, Father Francis and Sarah are dispatched in such sudden and simple manners that would have been avoided or survived if they were in any other movie.note  In fact, the counterparts of both in Dominion did survive the film.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Bession slits his own throat after being driven mad by the demon.
    • Granville shoots himself in the head after seeing his butterfly collection come to life.
  • Eaten Alive: James is eaten alive by hyenas. A Turkana baby is "born" dead and covered in maggots.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Merrin realizes that the real possessed has been Sarah the whole time after finding Pazuzu's silhouette drawn on her wall and a photo of her wedding to Bession.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Merrin and Joseph come out of the Church to find the British and Turkana forces massacred.
  • Evil-Detecting Baby: Merrin realizes that the exorcism has been unsuccessful when he sees that Joseph is still afraid of Sarah.
  • Evil Laugh: Pazuzu laughs when he first comfronts Merrin.
  • Family Theme Naming: Brothers James and Joseph.
  • Fantastic Catholicism: The Catholic Church deals in exorcisms, demon-hunting, curse investigations...
  • Fisher King: Evil version. As Pazuzu's influence grows outside the Church, the people, animals, and eventually the weather itself (in the form of a night sandstorm) become more dangerous.
  • Flies Equals Evil: Flies are present in places with higher density of demonic activity.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Merrin will survive and become a Catholic priest again so he will face Pazuzu again 30 years later.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Sarah resumes flirting with Merrin almost as soon as she is told that Bession died. We later learn that he was her husband. And the time they were separated was just three weeks.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Bession, the original head archaeologist, was institutionalized after becoming the first man to enter the church in 1500 years.

    Tropes H-V 
  • Heinous Hyena: Hyenas are attracted to the digging site and grow restless as the movie goes on.
  • History Repeats:
    • Under Pazuzu's influence, an army goes crazy and its members kill each other until nobody is left. 1500 years later, the same happens again.
    • Pazuzu seems condemned to fight and be defeated by a young and old priest duo.
  • Holy Burns Evil: Merrin burns Pazuzu with holy water.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Merrin leaves the Church and implicitly stops believing after Nazis force him to choose ten people from a crowd to be executed, lest they all be killed. He regains his faith when he fights Pazuzu.
  • Hollywood Darkness: Merrin's single gas lamp is enough to light the whole interior of the church and the caverns beneath it.
  • Hollywood Tactics: Under Pazuzu's influence, the Turkana walk to and then charge the British trenches without even attempting cover.
  • Hope Spot: Sarah seems to recover from possession twice. The first time it's Pazuzu luring Merrin into false security, the second she starts bleeding from her skull and dies in Merrin's arms.
  • Hotter and Sexier:
    • Compared to Dominion, Clara Bellar's doctor character was recast with former Bond Girl Izabella Scorupco and given a nude scene and Unresolved Sexual Tension with Merrin.
    • Compared to The Exorcist (and all other entries in the series), the possessed is an attractive adult woman (Scorupco's Sarah, again), and she flashes her cleavage and mimics coitus while fighting Merrin.
  • Hostage Situation: Pazuzu kidnaps Joseph to lure Merrin into the caves under the church.
  • Human Sacrifice: Before the church was built, the site was a temple where humans were sacrificed to Pazuzu. The Turkana attempt to revive the tradition by sacrificing Joseph, but Pazuzu has other ideas.
  • Impending Doom P.O.V.: Jefferies is killed by an unseen force rushing to his face.
  • Jump Scare: Constant ones, usually involving angle or lightning changes.
  • Les Collaborateurs: Emekwi comes across as this due to his overjoyous embracing of Christianism and western culture in contrast to the other locals.
  • Mama Bear: In retrospect, Sarah to Joseph, when she stops James taunting him and the Turkana shamans from sacrificing him by summoning hyenas and breaking their bones respectively. Subverted because she's possessed so it's actually Pazuzu doing it in order to use Joseph as a lure against Merrin.
  • Mind over Matter: Pazuzu uses psychokinesis to ransack the clinic and break the bones of the shamans who attempt to sacrifice Joseph.
  • Mirroring Factions: Under Pazuzu's influence, the Turkana and the British go to war against each other and end massacring the people on their own side until no one is left alive.
  • McGuffin: The Pazuzu head, which Merrin is hired to steal from the buried church. We never find who was hiring him through Semelier or how did they know that the head would be inside the church.
  • Mutual Kill: During the climax, Merrin's native guide manages to shoot an angry tribesman at exactly the same time the tribesman throws his spear.
  • My Greatest Failure: Merrin's failure to protect the villagers from the Nazis during the war, which made him lose his faith.
  • Mythology Gag: In addition to all the call backs, the movie is set in 1949 - the same year the real exorcism that inspired Blatty to write the original book is claimed to have happened.
  • Naked Nutter: During the backstory, Monsieur Bession went Mad From The Revelation after spending a little too much time at the Turkana dig and had to be carted off to an asylum in Nairobi. When Merrin finally goes to see him in the latter half of the film, he's stripped down to his underwear - revealing that he's also scratched a swastika in his chest. Then he slices his throat before Merrin's stunned eyes.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Pazuzu's eventual end goal (or at least one of them) is to lure Merrin into his lair for a showdown. In the process, he unwittingly gives Merrin the resolve, faith, and tools to defeat him (the Roman Ritual, holy water, and stole taken into the church by Father Francis, and Joseph as an exorcism assistant).
  • No Periods, Period: Sarah lost her period during her stay in a Nazi concentration camp during the war. Naturally, she's freaked when she seems to "recover" it.
  • Outliving One's Offspring:
    • Emekwi loses one son to hyenas and is willing to let the other be sacrificed to end the curse. He tearily tells him he is sorry.
    • One of the Turkana women gives birth to a dead child full of maggots.
  • Papa Wolf: Merrin becomes this for Joseph in the last act.
  • Prequel: To The Exorcist. One of the first that popularized them in the early 21st century, to boot.
  • Raising the Steaks: Pazuzu animates the butterflies in Major Granville's collection, driving him to suicide.
  • Red Herring: Joseph seems possessed by Pazuzu, but Sarah is the one who really is.
  • Religion of Evil: The spot where Lucifer fell used to be a Pagan temple where humans were sacrificed back in ancient times.
  • Religious Horror: The genre of the movie.
  • The Reveal: Sarah is the late Bession's wife and she's the one actually possessed by Pazuzu.
  • Sadistic Choice: Flashbacks show that Merrin lost his faith after he was forced by Nazis to pick ten people from a crowd to be shot, lest they all be killed.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The church was built on top of the Pagan temple, then buried, to seal Pazuzu within.
  • Sequel Escalation: Compared to previous movies, this is set over several centuries and countries and has an onscreen dead count on the hundreds. The final exorcism also escalates from the one in the first film in several ways: The possessed is an adult instead of a child; the possessed is not bound, but free to move over a massive building that Pazuzu knows well; one of the priests conducting the exorcism is taken out early and easily by Pazuzu, leaving the other to face him mostly alone.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: There's a lot of characters and many of them end up having very little or practically no effect on the main plot, but unlike in Dominion, practically all of them end up getting killed in the most gruesome ways possible.
  • Slashed Throat: When Merrin goes to question Bession about the archeological site, he finds him bleeding from a chest wound. After a cryptic conversation, Bession then kills himself by slicing his throat open with a shard of glass.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: As expected, Pazuzu insults and throws lewd comments to Merrin.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Sarah is the only real female character in the film.
  • Sole Survivor: The older priest is the only survivor of the massacre 1500 years ago in the prologue; Merrin and Joseph are the only survivors of the new massacre at the end of the movie.
  • Street Urchin: In Cairo, a boy pesters Merrin and Semelier to buy trinkets from him.
  • Symbology Research Failure:
    • Lampshade Hanging when Merrin identifies the Pazuzu head as Sumerian and asks why anyone would expect it to be inside a 6th century Christian church in East Africa, to which Semelier declines to answer. Presumably, Pazuzu just likes this depiction of him the most.note 
    • See Christianity is Catholic for out of universe examples.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: They tormented Merrin during the war and caused him to leave the Church.
  • Troll: Pazuzu, as expected, likes to play with his victims' minds and mock them.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Between Merrin and Sarah. They obviously like each other but can't be together.
  • Wall Crawling: Possessed Sarah does this briefly after Merrin drives her away with his faith.
  • War Is Hell: War is never presented gloriously, but as a backdrop for evil and leading to pointless slaughter in the end.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: Under Pazuzu's influence, the warriors on both sides at the end start killing their own comrades until no one is left.
  • Weird Historical War: Merrin lost his faith during World War II. And while there is no direct equivalent to the British-Turkana conflict, it can be seen as a precedent to the Mau Mau Uprising of 1952-1960.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Pazuzu kills James and a Turkana baby, both times in the most cruel ways imaginable.
  • The Virus: Pazuzu's influence eventually drives everyone (and everything) mad and homicidal.

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist also contains examples of:

  • Ascended to Carnivorism: When the church is opened, the hyenas attack the Turkana's cows... and the cows eat the hyenas.
  • Death by Materialism: Some British soldiers attempt to loot the church, and pop up dead the next day.
  • Enlightened Antagonist: The imagery of Pazuzu's final form definitely intends to evoke this trope, along with some oriental overtones to give it exotic flavour. After taking over Cheche's body, the normally rageful demon takes ascetic, even Buddhic attributes, turning into an only moderately creepy bald man dressed in a simple white loincloth and seated in a levitating meditation posture.
  • The Grotesque: Cheche is creepily malformed, with an useless arm and a leg much more thin than the other.
  • Levitating Lotus Position: Pazuzu's final form floats in sukhasana position while Merrin confronts him.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: Compared to Harlin's version, most of the people live through the film.

Alternative Title(s): Dominion Prequel To The Exorcist