If Paul Schrader’s prequel to ''The Exorcist,'' which was shot and edited only to be shelved by studio executives, is ever released on DVD, it will be intriguing to see if there could be even less going on in it than there is in Renny Harlin’s Exorcist: The Beginning. Set at an archaeological dig in Cairo in 1949, the new movie is a dusty piñata stuffed with omens and not much more. They include the following: flies, moths, bats, crows, hyenas, Beezlebub sculptures, a big Beezlebub statue, a baby covered in maggots (that one’s a goodie), an apocalyptic sandstorm, and a man cursed with wretched skin. Will the audience glimpse the devil in these details? The power of Renny Harlin’s crassness compels you!
Stellan Skarsgard has the gravity, and hairline, to play a younger Max von Sydow, but his Father Merrin -- I mean, Mr. Merrin, a former priest who’s lost his faith -- keeps flashing back to episodes with the Nazis, so that the movie can turn into a solemnly underbaked ''Merrin’s Choice.'' The original ''Exorcist'' verged on being demonic child porn. This ''Beginning'' simply feels as if it has no end.