Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)

Drama, Horror, Thriller
Stellan Skarsgård, Gabriel Mann, Clara Bellar, Billy Crawford
Years before Father Lancaster Merrin helped save Regan MacNeil's soul, he first encounters the demon Pazuzu in East Africa. Merrin's initial battle with Pazuzu leads to the rediscovery of his faith.
While director Schrader's attempt at a literate, internal exposition on evil temptations and human sin is admirable, this prequel suffers from hit-and-miss psychological tension, poor visual effects, and weak writing -- an overambitious failure of a horror movie.
  • Warner Bros. Company:
  • R Rated:
  • IMDB link IMDB:
  • 10 Aug 2005 Released:
  • 25 Oct 2005 DVD Release:
  • $0.2M Box office:
  • William Wisher Jr., Caleb Carr Writer:
  • Paul Schrader Director:
  • N/A Website:

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Not Amazing, but 100 Times Better than Exorcist: The Beginning7/10
I just saw this a couple of nights ago at a media screening in New York. There are no spoilers in this review.

Just to preface this, I am a HUGE fan of the Exorcist. It is the greatest horror movie ever made, and perhaps one of the greatest films ever made period. With no major expectations, I saw the Harlin version last year just hoping for a somewhat scary sequel movie. I cannot tell you how irritated I was by it. I was so annoyed that I actually wrote a letter of complaint to Morgan Creek Pictures demanding my money back. What bothered me the most is that Exorcist: The Beginning made no effort to keep the same aesthetics as the original. The 1973 classic had very little gore or special effects. It was more about strong directing, good sound editing, and building mood and atmosphere. Harlin's version, on the other hand, was more of an action movie along the lines of The Mummy or Van Helsing, only with more R rated thrills: loads of gore, loads of special effects, none of it the least bit scary.

Well, once I found out about the Paul Schrader version I became obsessed with wanting to see it. From what I heard it was more in the spirit of the original Exorcist and more of a "thinking man's film". Plus it was written by Caleb Carr, author of one of my favorite novels: The Alienist. I was even more excited when I found out they were releasing it in the theaters this year.

So onto my review...

I wasn't exactly "blown away" by Dominion, but it's 100 times better than "The Beginning". It at least maintains those aesthetics that I described above. It's not a straight up horror movie, there's probably only 2 or 3 real scares in the whole film, but those scares are far more terrifying than any of the cheap fun house type thrills that Harlin's version has to offer.

Although the big scares are minimal, there's loads of creepiness in the movie. It manages to make you feel uneasy the whole way through. I didn't have a hard time falling asleep that night, but I did wake up in the middle of the night kind of bothered thinking about some of the weird images that were burned in my brain.

From the beginning, what I liked immediately is that it was kind of grainy and looked like a 15 or 20 year old movie. There was something old fashioned about the style of film-making which made me feel like I truly was in Africa during the 1940s....much more so than the other slick Hollywood version. The cinematography is excellent. Much like a David Lynch film, you need to see it on the big screen because there's so much detail to enjoy that can be missed on a small television screen. My favorite scenes revolve around the archaeological expedition of an ancient temple buried in Africa. As they're exploring the catacombs under the temple, there's some bizarre faces carved into the rock. They don't jump out and say, "boo!" but they creep you out as your eyes discover them on their own terms.

I definitely took this version much more seriously. It's a very emotional film: many scenes managed to make me feel upset, bothered, unsettled, and sometimes even disturbed. Even simple scenes like people getting shot were so much more upsetting in their treatment. It also was successful in getting me to think about god, religion, and faith the same way that the first Exorcist did.

Of course Dominion does have it's flaws:

-Some of the acting could have been better and I can understand the need to do some recasting. The Nazi officer in the beginning wasn't the least bit intimidating. And Father Merrin's assistant Father Francis had sort of a Keanu Reeves quality about him. That's probably the biggest advantage that the first Exorcist has over this film. When you watch that movie, the actors are much more convincingly terrified. And that's what makes a great horror movie. Fear is a learned response. If the viewer is convinced that the actor is scared, then he/she gets scared, too. There's no substitute for good acting, not with all the special effects in the world.

-There's very little special effects in this movie, but the few scenes that do have CGI are really bad. There is no reason to use computer effects to portray animals such as jackals, cattle, scorpions, etc. Get the real thing or use puppetry. This movie did not need special effects.

-The ending climax scene, the confrontation between Father Merrin and the devil, could have used a little bit more intensity. I felt like he got through that scene much too easily, considering that in the first Exorcist, one priest died and the other was brought to near death during the exorcism. Stellan Skarsgard didn't even break a sweat! William Friedkin would have worked him to the ground. This scene kind of reminded me of a Star Trek episode.

If you are at all interested (and are still reading this), these are my personal letter grades to the Exorcist films I have seen:

Exorcist (1973) A+, Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) F, Dominion: A Prequel to the Exorcist (2005) B-

Although not perfect, I think 75% of Dominion was salvageable. There was no reason to scrap it and make an entirely different, much worse version. With some minor changes, Dominion could have been raised a whole letter grade into a very scary, very respectable, and probably very successful installment into the Exorcist franchise and at much less cost, too.
Ignore "Should have gone straight to video" review10/10
Another reviewer claims this film was just "Exorcist: The Beginning" with some "extra footage" added. Anyone who has been following the history of the production of this film know this is not the case.

This is the film that Paul Schrader shot and edited. The studio was unhappy with the results, fired him, and brought in Reny "Die Hard" Harlan to re-film it. The resulting Harlan film tanked at the box office, so Schrader was given permission to fully finish and release "Dominion" as a separate film.

If anything, this is a chance for film fans to see the "Exorcist" prequel they had been promised before the studio big-wigs stepped in and brought in a hack director to "bloody it up".
Paul Shrader's exorcist5/10
I was among the lucky ones to see this film in Brussels too. Are you going to like this film or not ? Well it all depends on what you expect. As a horror film fan, for me there is no doubt : no one will ever make a better Exorcist film as William Friedkin's original. They can make 100 more exorcists, the 1st will remain the reference, it was innovating in many ways. Exorcist 2 took its best horror sequences from the first one. Number 3 was a cop movie. Now we have numbers 4 and 5 with the same story and even the same actors sometimes. So where is the difference ? I saw them both but I did not expect to see a better movie than the first. It is probably why I liked them both. So if you prefer horror, well see Harlin's one, it is a decent successor. And if you like Paul Shrader' s movies, I don't think you will be disappointed with his version, witch is softer but deeper. But please, as he said to the public before the film : forget everything you have seen about the exorcist movies before and watch the film with a open mind.
Solid. Unexpected, effective film.5/10
Exorcist: The Beginning was an ineffective film that contains everything I hate about current genre films: impatient editing and storytelling, lines of dialogue that stop just when some characters are about to actually say something, bombardment of CGI visuals and some seriously unnecessary gore effects that are akin to the movie-makers hitting the audience over the head with a Warner Brothers iron anvil normally reserved for their cartoon characters. What a nice surprise it was to finally see DOMINION on it's (unfortunate) limited run. Here is a movie that doesn't assume the audience is too stupid to actually sit down and take a story in without excessive music video stimuli. Here is a movie who's build-up is effective and will have many working hard to shake the uneasy feeling that, indeed, evil IS everywhere. There were some story elements from "The Beginning" that made no sense whatsoever. In this film - all is presented clearly, thoughtfully and much more unsettling (but it really hits you when the film comes to its climax). There is a scene in "The Beginning" where some crazed hyenas savage a character to shreds. Their appearance was curious and not presented as necessarily crucial to the film other than for one scene. In this film, just one look from them and you know right away they add to the whole atmosphere of the film. They are an ever present danger not only to the surrounding location but the always present evil watching humanity just out of sight and ready to attack when one is most vulnerable and alone. Another sequence featuring Father Merrin and Nazi soldiers is given a very clever, diabolic twist and adds MUCH to the notion of how the Devil deceives and tricks. In the other film, it's a scene where you know only that "this is what torments Father Merrin" - and that's it. Which is how this movie plays against Renny Harlin's "The Beginning" - an easy sell to the masses (it STILL didn't work). "Dominion" is a crafted piece where one single shot holds more story information than a 30 second sequence rife with vulgar, over-the-top digital effects. See this version - especially if believe that The Exocist story is actually more effective today than it EVER was.
This movie is fantastic.8/10
If you go into this film thinking you are going to see twirling heads and pea-soup you are going to be disappointed. If you go into this film with an open mind you will be pleasantly surprised by the depth, sophistication, spiritual drama, and sheer craft involved. There is meat to this picture. I think the artists involved rightly avoided trying to best or even mimic the original and instead focused on dread-- a creeping sort of existential dread-- instead of cheap, quick scares. You don't jump in your seat with fear, but you walk out of the theater feeling unnerved and it stays with you. Unlike most of the American popcorn horror flicks being made today, this film lingers in your head long after.