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In 1949, a post war trauma syndrome suffering, ex-Father Lancaster Merin (Stellan Skarsgård) is wasting away in a tiny African bar, when he is called in to retrieve a mysterious icon from an unusual archaeological site. An ancient church built 1,500 years ago has been found, with a potentially profound history. The Vatican sends Father Francis (James D'Arcy) to supervise and represent its interests, but he knows more than he lets on. Once there, Merin discovers the local tribesmen have learnt to fear the evil that seems to reside in the bowels of the ancient church. And the white doctor who is holding the medical fort, Sarah (Izabella Scorupco), becomes a pawn in the battle between Merin and the evil one.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Bedevilled by complications, this film has finally emerged from the two-year dark of 'creative differences' to haunt our cinemas with its cliches. Whatever the original script might have been (by Paul Schrader, no less) it has in this, what, third version, become laborious and creaky. That's not to slur the cast, who all do their darndest to bring to life a screenplay which needs every clever trick in sound design to make it less funny than scary.

The ex-priest Marin is now a washed up lost soul on his way to alcoholic hell in a hellhole of a village in Africa. His unshaven face and bleary eyes mirror his loss of faith. He's been through the hell of war, and the Nazis made him do terrible things. God wasn't around and he's pissed off about that.

As he reluctantly accepts the job of finding this artifact .... And you see already the cliches are mounting up. There are more: a fetid faced man, maggot infested newborn, big flies, hyenas and a young boy apparently possessed. An upside down crucifix and strange noises at every turn...oh, the noises. Every scare-cue is a sound effect from hell. If the film played in silence (as it threatened to at the preview I attended), it would have shown up the poverty of writing imagination even more.

At times the film is like a ride in a Ghost Train at Luna Park, when the bloodied body of a dead padre drops from the ceiling just in front of Merin in the dark tunnel. At other times the scare tactics are almost silly, and there is scarcely enough scares to fill half an hour, never mind 114 minutes. The nastier scenes, like a boy being torn apart by the hyenas, only adds to the sense of desperation this film gives off.

Stellan Skarsgård retains his credibility and portrays a tortured, complex soul with admirable complexity, which stands him in good stead when he forgives god and enlists him to exorcise the demons not only within the poor possessed victims, but himself, too.

Published February 3, 2005

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CAST: Stellan Skarsgård, Izabella Scorupco, James D'Arcy, Remy Sweeney, Julian Wadham, Andrew French

PRODUCER: Will Raee, James G. Robinson

DIRECTOR: Rennie Harlin

SCRIPT: Alexi Hawley (story by William Wisher Jr, Caleb Carr)


EDITOR: Mark Goldblatt, Todd E. Miller

MUSIC: Trevor Rabin

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stefano Maria Ortolani

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes



DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: February 3, 2005

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