Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist (2005)
Father Merrin, suffering from a crisis of faith, leads an archaeological dig in post-world war 2 Africa. Merrin and his team uncover a buried church and thereafter a number of strange things begin to happen. Merrin encounters the demon, Pazuzu for the first time and he must perform an exorcism to rid a crippled-boy from the evil spirit.
The first thing that struck me about this film was how beautifully shot it looks on the screen. Director Paul Schrader manages to make the movie look and feel like 1940s colonial Africa. Each shot seems painstakingly considered, not a reel is wasted, from the snow-clad opening scene in Nazi-occupied Holland to the illuminating sequences set in Africa at night-time.
There isn’t a lot of gore in this picture and shocks are extremely rare , the emphasis here is on psychological drama. It’s a film which is about Merrin’s long-running doubts surrounding his faith rather than some ancient evil trapped beneath the African plains. Stellen Skarsgard’s performance as Merrin is a subdued master-stroke and I think he really comes across well as a younger version of Max Von Sydow’s character in the 1973 original. Gabriel Mann gives support as the young, inexperienced priest with a zeal for spreading the christian message – even when no-one wants to hear it. The inclusion of the British army is interesting and Julian Wadham is cracking at playing the well-intentioned but increasingly fragile Major Granville.
Coming on to the demon itself. If you are expecting a re-run of Reagan’s possession from the original, you’re in for a shock. The demonic possession in this movie does not disfigure the boy but cures him of his numerous afflictions, turning him into what looked to me like some sort of child-messiah (I’m thinking Indian Jones here…). Pazazu is not the foul-mouthed incarnation of Friedkin’s original but is a sophisticated entity who taunts Merrin by making him relive the events which have broken his once strongly-held beliefs. In this way, the demon in “Dominion” is more terrifying than the obscenity who graced our screen in “The Exorcist” (1973). The film-makers thankfully knew that no-one is frightened of an ugly demon shouting “Your mother sucks cocks in hell” anymore.
On the script, this is a sober picture with no humorous let-up whatsoever but it’s a film which doesn’t require or need the usual tongue-in-cheek laughs of the horror genre – it’s a thinking man’s film.The score of the picture is interesting – it’s not particularly polished – but very effective and I quite liked it.
Overall, “Dominion” is an intelligent, atmospheric film which is well-shot with some intriguing character performances. Yet, it does lack what I call a “bite factor”. You are always expecting something big to happen but it doesn’t – and even the final exorcism scene is rather tame. You may remember that in the original movie it is said that Merrin’s exorcism in Africa “nearly killed him”; well, in this picture, Merrin doesn’t really get that worked up at all – he just seems to go through the motions of reading a few bible passages. Another big drawback is the frankly ridiculous inclusion of some woeful CGI effects – I mean who needs to see CGI cattle eating hyenas…..apparently, these were included post-production on a shoe-string budget for some bizarre reason.
Nevertheless, the film sits well as a companion piece to the both “The Exorcist” (1973) and “The Exorcist 3” (1990). This really should have been Exorcist 2, whose own Africa-setting was just crazily incomprehensible – and it’s a pity audiences had to wait 30 years to see such a vision realised.
I’d recommend this to every horror fan.
hotdog rating: 7/10