The story behind Dominion in itself is an interesting one. Paul Schrader was brought in to direct the movie & with it pretty much completed, Morgan Creek Productions decided to pull the plug on it fearing a box-office disaster.
They then replaced Schrader with Renny Harlin, used the same plot, locations and sets as Dominion but turned it into a more conventional horror movie. This film was called The Exorcist: The Beginning & was released to a critical mauling in 2004.
Desperate to recoup some of their money Morgan Creek gave a small amount to Paul Schrader allowing him to finish his version. The idiotic production company then allowed Warner Bros. to release Schrader’s version under the title Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist in 2005.
So if you were ever wondering just why there are two very similar prequels to The Exorcist? There it is.
While Dominion is a far superior movie to The Beginning, it is far from perfect. It retains a lot of the more psychological elements of The Exorcist & deals with much larger questions (existence of God, does evil exist etc.) but some hokey acting & terrible CGI let it down.
The movie opens in 1944 in Holland in a Nazi-occupied town. One of the German soldiers has been killed & the commander in charge wants revenge. He forces the priest, Father Lankester Merrin (Stellan Skarsgård) to choose who will die under threat of killing them all.
3 years later, Merrin’s faith has well & truly been shattered. He is now an archaeologist in Derati & tasked with unearthing a church that has been buried for a long time. Alongside Father Francis (Gabriel Mann) & Major Granville (Julian Wadham), the British officer in charge of the troops stationed there, they discover that the church is in perfect condition, seemingly buried the moment it was finished.
Exploring it they find proof that the Church wasn’t built as a place of worship. In fact it seems to be a place to keep something evil trapped inside. They find an underground chamber that has demonic idols & signs of human sacrifices. This church is not a good place & the evil inside has now been unleashed.
Dominion tells the story of Lankester Merrin’s first dealings with the demon Pazuzu. The demon that would go on to inhabit the body of young Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist. Those conversations between Merrin & the demon in the original horror now have context as we see just why Pazuzu wants its revenge.
It’s far more complex then just a simple ‘possession’ story, it’s weighted in the guilt that Merrin feels, the regret that he didn’t take a different path in 1944, beliefs & beings that are older then time itself.
Pazuzu wants Merrin’s soul, it wants to spread its evil via messengers & the priest who lost his faith is the perfect catalyst.
There is no knocking the overall story of Dominion, it’s often thrilling & even the slower moments are just to build anticipation. Those expecting a full horror experience won’t be happy. This is a slow burner of a movie that works hard at linking into the Exorcist while being its own film. It’s a lot of work but it comes across well. Thanks to some excellent acting from the leads.
Stellan Skarsgård is fantastic. He’s believable as a devout follower that had his faith destroyed. His unwillingness to see Gabriel Mann’s Father Francis’ reasoning to not lose hope is understandable. He’s a damaged man put alongside a devotee that has never seen true evil.
Julian Wadham is also very impressive; his style of stiff-upper lipped British-ness mixed with genuine fear is amazing to watch. A good man driven by forces he can’t fully understand, it’s a character that you can genuinely feel sorry for.
Unfortunately the same can’t be said for much of the support cast’s acting. The supporting players are a mixed bunch. Some do perfectly fine (Clara Bellar, Ralph Brown) while others (Billy Crawford) come across very cheesy.
When the demon eventually takes full possession things get a bit silly. At this point there have already been some horrific CGI hyenas & snakes but the sight of the perfectly sculpted possessed boy floating in the air will see the laughter start pouring out. Probably not the reaction most would hope for.
In this, Pazuzu just isn’t scary once he has taken hold. It’s far more effective early on with the whispering in ears, the sudden flash of ‘that face’ & the brief reaction he has to Father Francis putting a cross on his head.
The final battle between Merrin & the demon falls a bit flat. It doesn’t scream epic & it doesn’t scream good vs evil. It’s just disappointing. The only positive is the manner in which Pazuzu is defeated. Not only does he not get the soul of his victim or the soul of Merrin but he restores the faith of the priest! The ultimate failure.
The question has to be asked…did The Exorcist need a prequel? The answer is always going to be no but Dominion does a fine job of filling in the blanks. It does a fine job of building on the history & adding more layers to the lore. It’s got its issues but it’s still an entertaining & thoughtful watch.
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Dominion - Prequel to the Exorcist