Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)
By: Trist Jones on June 6, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Warner Brothers (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 2.00:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1. English, French Subtitles. 117 minutes
The Movie
Director: Paul Schrader
Starring: Stellan Skarsgård, Gabriel Mann, Clara Bellar, Billy Crawford, Ralph Brown, Israel Aduramo
Screenplay: William Wisher Jr., Caleb Carr
Country: USA
I firmly believe that Morgan Creek Productions are insane money grabbers. I'm sure just about everyone at this site knows to some extent the hilarious debacle that became The Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion: The Prequel to the Exorcist. If not, you really should check out the full story, because it's hilarious, but I'll recap a little bit here.

Basically, Morgan Creek decided it was high time for a new Exorcist movie, a prequel, one that would tell the story of Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow in the original) and his first true encounter with the forces of darkness. It dwelled in Development Hell for a while, and probably should have stayed there. In 2001 it was announced that John Frankenheimer was to direct the feature, with Liam Neeson starring as a young Father Merrin. Frankenheimer stepped down from directing and sadly died a month later and Neeson pulled out. The film was then handed over to Paul Schrader (the writer of Taxi Driver). Here's where things started getting a little screwy. Morgan Creek wanted Ryan Phillippe or Kerr Smith (the gay dude from Dawson's Creek) as Merrin, but Schrader pushed on and Stellan Skarsgard was cast in the role. Eventually the rest of the cast filled out, primarily with no-namers, and filming began. Filming continued right till the end and Schrader put together a rough cut. Get this. Morgan Creek hates it, says it's terrible and completely unmarketable. "Where's the gore?" they ask. They fire Schrader, replace him with Renny Harlin (that's right, Cutthroat Island, Deep Blue Sea) and Harlin reshoots the entire film, replacing the entire cast with Skarsgard being the exception. Harlin finishes film. Film is abortion. Morgan Creek now have a tail between their legs. They give Schrader some poo-change to finish his cut, and the terrible, completely unmarketable film does the festival rounds and a theatrical run before being shot gunned to DVD.

So that's the story in a nutshell. Here's how it all turned out. Harlin's version was a complete stinker. It was a cheap, gratuitous grab at a franchise that deserved a lot more respect than the puerile effort Harlin made. The film had bad press before it even finished production, so it was pretty much doomed from the get-go, and once the reviews started coming in, people began asking about the Schrader version. The reviews of the novelisation of Schrader's script weren't exactly glowing, but they were decent and everyone said would make a far better film than the Harlin one. So then it came out, and guess what? It really wasn't that much better.

The Exorcist : The Beginning is a straight up case of doing tricks on command for a tasty treat. No doubt Harlin got his big fat cheque for appeasing those in charge at Morgan Creek. It was needless amounts of gore and violence with some uninspired moments taken straight from the original Exorcist. It was a by the books studio horror, try and shock people with violence, but use things people recognise from the original. Dominion: The Prequel to the Exorcist is a completely different beast. Dominion is a psychological horror, only the horror element isn't really all that horrifying. Basically what Schraders film had over Harlin's was character development and drama, with a possessed African cripple story running alongside. Where the original Exorcist managed to perfectly balance it's horror with drama, Dominion has too much drama, and not enough horror, which is a real shame because had Schrader just written the script and had someone more capable direct, it could have been fantastic.

The horror of Dominion comes from the notion that Che Che, a disfigured and crippled boy, cast out of his tribe and left to fend for himself, is taken in by an archaeological/military/missionary outpost hospital. The archaeologists at the outpost have recently begun uncovering an ancient Byzantine church sealed and buried behind the wall of a cliff. Turns out the church wasn't built for worship, but to seal away a demon and now that the church has been opened, the demon is let out and decides to take control of Che Che. Now here's where it becomes truly interesting; instead of going all Linda Blair, Che Che (played by Brit-pop idol Billy Crawford) actually starts to heal, the demon turning him into this perfect androgenous being. Obviously Father Merrin faces off against the demon in the end and I'm pretty sure you can all guess how it goes, but this idea had huge potential, which is unfortunately wasted, though the burden of blame isn't down to Schrader entirely. Some terrible production values and special effects eventually make the demon into a bit of a joke as the film nears its climax.

If you thought the effects were bad in Harlin's version, you will be reeling when you see how terrible they are in this. Admittedly, there probably wasn't anywhere near as much spent on post production for Schrader's film (in the end, both films ended up costing roughly the same amount), but even so, every single effect is awful. The Hyenas in Dominion make Harlin's look like Jurassic Park. Another terrible moment that comes to mind is when Che Che lets fly with a torrent of demonic abuse after being touched by a crucifix. The line is delivered poorly enough, but on top of that, they demonise Crawford's voice by lowering the pitch and making his eyes suddenly glow red. It looks and sounds completely hilarious. Oh, if you do decide to see this, prepare to cringe at some of the worst aurora borealis you will ever see on film, and if you think you've seen some terrible CGI bugs and snakes, wait until you see the ones in this. Oh! Oh! And Maggot Baby still equals hilarity!

The acting isn't exactly first rate either. Skarsgard never really looks as though he wants to be there and everyone else is just straight up bland. There aren't any standout performances, at least in Harlin's version you could remember some of the characters, even if you didn't give a shit about them. All this then begs the question, idea aside, does Dominion get anything right? The answer is a reluctant "Yyyyeeeahhh…"

This version certainly addresses Merrin's back story and loss of faith far better than Harlin's version. The scene where Merrin must choose which members of his parish live and die at the hands of Nazi invaders is probably the best scene in the whole film, even if the Nazi's themselves were more realistic in Hogan's Heroes. Another couple of moments stood out as surprises to me. There is a shooting in the missionary school, where an African man bursts into the single classroom and begins opening fire, and another where the female lead is trapped inside the ancient church with the demon for a disturbingly lengthy period of time, and though nothing is shown, the notion of that actually happening is pretty horrifying.
The print is pretty much what you'd expect from a film that probably saw DVD production before cinematic screening. The image is as clean as you could ask for, without a single trace of dirt or damage. The picture format is presented in 2.00:1 Anamorphic. This particular version of the film came from the U.S. so inherently, it's an NTSC release.
Dolby 5.1 but unlike the other Exorcist movies, it doesn't exactly put your surround sound set up to the test.
Extra Features
Now, here's the killer. You'd think with a production nightmare like this one, there'd be a slew of extras. Sorry people, an audio commentary and a handful of insubstantial deleted scenes are all you're getting with this. But wait! That commentary might be insightful and interesting as Schrader is sure to talk about the production issues! Wishful thinking. Schrader's commentary is possibly the most boring commentary I've heard to date. All he really gives you is a technical commentary on how he shot particular sequences, but with a film like this one, who cares?
The Verdict
As I said earlier, this really isn't all that much better than Harlin's version. There are things Harlin unfortunately does far better in his film than Schrader manages in this. Some really, really good ideas are lost to terrible mishandling, and I really can't bring myself to recommending this at all. Only diehards should bother with this one, just to see what it's like comparatively, but I suppose if any horror fan sees it sitting there, curiosity is going to grab you by the wallet. Awful film, and awful DVD.
Movie Score
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