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The nice thing about a sequel subtitled "The Beginning" is that you can be reasonably sure it's the end. The Exorcist (1973) included a reference to elderly Father Merrin having performed an exorcism in Africa; this dopey fourth installment jumps back to 1949 and finds Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard) estranged from the church but traveling to east Africa to help excavate a pagan temple where Lucifer still hangs out. The serious Catholic themes that made the original film genuinely disturbing have been flattened out into a cartoonish backstory pitting Merrin against Nazi storm troopers, but director Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger) knows what the franchise is all about and delivers plenty of worms, hyenas, and blasphemous images. Vittorio Storaro is the cinematographer. R, 114 min.

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