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Notes from the back row

Sharks, The Devil, and Avril Lavigne. Horror week at the movies

If you’re into horror, this is a good week at the movies. Remember a few weeks ago I gave you the heads up on a new shark movie, supposedly the scariest since Jaws? Well it’s here. Open Water , the low budget, high reality shark movie where they just tossed their actors in the ocean with real live sharks starts Friday at the Village 8. Finally.

If you’re only into high gloss Hollywood movies with lots of explosions and spoon-fed scariness you may not enjoy Open Water, it’s shot digitally and has no big stars. But if you’re into suspense and tension and real-ass sharks looking to rip people some new shitters, then Open Water is the way to go this week. It’s not perfect, and at times you wish the sharks would just eat the two bobbing yuppies to stop their complaining, but small independent movies rule and the fact that filmmakers Chris Kentis and Laura Lau even pulled this off is a good enough reason to check it out. You can always get your Hollywood-type horror somewhere else. The new Exorcist movie, for instance.

As far as creepy, freaky, spine-tingling horror goes, you can’t beat William Friedkin’s 1973 film The Excorcist. But Hollywood is always on the lookout to dry-hump a good idea to death – 1993’s Teenage Exorcist , where a priest and a pizza delivery boy battle the demons of hell together, proves that. And so we now have, Exorcist: The Beginning.

There’s a bit of controversy surrounding this one. Originally, cinematic master Paul Schrader ( Affliction, Auto Focus) was asked to make a film focusing on the earlier life of Father Lancaster Merrin, the priest from the original Exorcist film. Schrader, who wrote Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, and The Last Temptation of Christ , is a master of tales about a solitary man in the grips of a moral crisis and he concocted a movie with more drama and less horror, based around a younger Father Merrin. When Schrader finished and handed his movie in, studio execs at Morgan Creek didn’t like it; not scary enough. So they fired him, re-wrote, and got a new director to make a whole movie. This new, more horrific version is directed by Kenny Harlin – the guy responsible for such masterpieces as Die Hard 2, Deep Blue Sea, and Cliffhanger (gag).

In any case it’s an Exorcist movie so it won’t be that bad. The story has a young Father Merrin trying to escape the horrors he witnessed in Belgium during WWII. Merrin, played by Stellan Skarsard, has lost his faith in mankind and God alike and is just roaming around dejectedly when a private collector hires him to pillage an archaeological dig in Kenya. Apparently they found a perfectly preserved Christian temple that just shouldn’t be there. It’s perhaps the place where the devil was laid to rest after he was tossed out of heaven and, of course, he’s looking to get released back into the world.

With more horror and less intense personal drama, and a love story theme tossed in as well, Exorcist : The Beginning has the potential to severely disappoint true Exorcist fans, especially knowing there’s a "too intelligent" version kicking around somewhere in limbo. But still, Merrin’s exorcism in Africa is set up in the original Exorcist and we get to learn more about that creepy-ass statue of the devil as well, so it won’t be all that bad. Besides, I wouldn’t be surprised if Schrader’s version pops up in cinemas some time as well, or at least on DVD.

Not really supposed to be a horror movie, except that it’s so horrifically bad, is Mark Griffiths’ Going the Distance. Another dumb teenage love story/road trip about a poor sap who chases after his girlfriend. Going the Distance has our hero finishing high school and finding out his girlfriend moved to Toronto. He packs his two best buddies into a motorhome and leaves the beaches of Tofino heading to Toronto in an attempt to marry this girl and save her from the evils of the big city (like a good career).

This movie was made in Canada and is actually set in Canada (rare) but it just doesn’t tread on any new ground at all. Most of the jokes are recycled (poorly) from other movies. There are lots of cameos including Matt Freyer (the guy was Max Headroom) as a Canadian prairie hick who’s not much different from an American prairie hick, and Avril Lavigne, who acts about as well as Britney (that is, terribly). I’m all for supporting Canadian movies, but it’s much easier when the climax doesn’t take place at the MTV Music Awards. Skip it.

At Village 8 Aug. 20-26: Open Water, Going the Distance, Without a Paddle, Exorcist: The Beginning, Bourne Supremacy, Pincess Diaries 2, Alien vs. Predator, Yu-Gi-Oh, Collateral.

At Rainbow Theatre Aug. 20-26: Fahrenheit 9/11