movie trailer (apple.com - quicktime)
NOTE: Most of this brief spoiler was sent in by alexsigep and I filled in the rest with other very brief spoilers sent in. There are a few small scenes missing but the basic plot is all there. Enough to know that you can probably skip this film...
The movie begins 1500 years ago and we see the aftermath of a huge battle where thousands of soldiers died. A Priest is walking through the carnage and sees a dead soldier holding a small, baseball sized statue of a head of some sorts. The priest takes it from the soldiers hand - the soldier's eyes open and the credits begin...
We then meet Father Merrin (Stellan Skargard). It is 1949, 25 years before he will perform the famous exorcism from the original 1974 film. Father Merrin is now Mr. Merrin, losing his faith in God due to a Nazi atrocity which forced him to make a Sophie's Choice type decision as the Nazi leader tells him, "God isn't here today, priest." This decision haunts him day and night.
He is now an archaeologist and because of this, and his religious background, is called by a British businessman to help find an ancient artifact (the statue from the beginning). The businessman hands him a leather replica of the artifact and tells him about the recent excavation of a Christian church in East Africa
Merrin heads to East Africa to shed some light on the mysterious findings of the church (about 1500 years old) that has just recently been unearthed by an archaeology team. The strange thing about the church is that it's completely intact (with some bats flying around).
Merrin is joined by a young priest, Father Francis (James D'Arcy). The Turkana tribespeople warn Merrin that the structure is haunted by evil spirits.
Shortly after Merrin's arrival, things go awry. Two boys (Joseph and James) are hanging out one night by a well. As the two boys play around, James (the older of the two) steals Merrin's gift to the younger sibling. Out of nowhere a pack of hyenas surround the siblings, but seem more attracted to James. He tells his brother to go get help, but the younger boy stands still in almost complete shellshock. James is ripped apart by the hyenas as Joseph stands in disbelief. Townspeople run to the scene but are too late as the hyenas carry off James' lifeless body. The townspeople carry Joseph to the infirmary, where the doctor Sarah (Izabella Scorupco) tends to him.
Merrin's suspicions about what might be at work continue to grow. He visits the church on an almost nightly basis and uncovers more information about what's amiss. At one point, he discovers the drawings of Sarah's former husband, who went mad and was committed to an asylum. Merrin visits Sarah's former husband in the asylum to ask him about the drawings. The maniac, sitting in a chair, turns around to show off his freshly carved-in-blood swastika. He grabs a nearby knife and proceeds to slit his own throat.
After witnessing the increase in crazed happenings in their village since Merrin arrived, the villagers grow skeptical of his intentions. They blame the loss of James, and all the other evil on him and the other outsiders. Father Francis calls in the army to try and keep order despite Merrin's warning against it. This decision comes into play later.
One night a small group of villagers gather to exorcise the supposed demon from Joseph. They take over the infirmary and begin the exorcism, with the intention of killing Joseph after performing it. Sarah struggles to free herself from one of the men who keeps her from stopping it. Everything in the infirmary starts shaking and it's presumed that devil inside Joseph is trying to stop it from happening. Each of the villagers suffers some kind of wound in the process and they all try and limp away from the possessed boy, having unsuccessfully performed only part of the ritual.
Father Francis arrives to find Sarah and Joseph alone. He then decides that the only way for Joseph to survive is to take him out of the village and to Nairobi. A sandstorm prevents them from leaving though, and he's forced to try and perform an exorcism in the mysterious church. When he does, he's taken out by the lovely demon Sarah... who was actually posessed by the demon... not Joseph.
The army and villagers begin fighting one another... pissed off that the army general shot one of their leaders. Each side lines up and start the massacre. Merrin avoids the onslaught after discovering the truth about Sarah's possession, and finding the much saught after artifact in her room (which turns out to be the face of Satan) in a strange demonic drawing on her wall -- and heads toward the church - the only place neither side will go.
Merrin searches Sarah out in the mysterious church only to find Father Francis' corpse and a scared Joseph in the immediate area. The demonized Sarah pops out and the two tangle. Merrin eventually gets the better of her with renewed faith in tow as he and the young Joseph recite the exorcism prayers. In the process of exorcising Sarah's demon however, she winds up dying.
Merrin and Joseph leave the church to discover that every townsperson and army soldier is dead and the town is now 90% buried from the sandstorm, as is the artifact.
The final scene is of Merrin (now fully garbed in priests clothes) meeting the British businessman from the beginning telling him he couldn't find what he was looking for and gives him back the leather replica. The businessman thanks him, calling him Merrin. The final line in the movie is, "It's not Merrin... It's Father Merrin."