Prequel to The Exorcist

Starring: Stellan Skarsgard, Gabriel Mann, Clara Bellar and Billy Crawford
Warner Home Video
RRP: 15.99
Z1 69262
Certificate: 15
Available 17 October 2005

Father Merrin is looking for something. After a situation in Holland during the Second World War, when he was forced by a Nazi to choose a handful of people to die to save several, Merrin has lost his faith and is on an unofficial sabbatical. In recent years he has been involved in several archaeological digs. The biggest yet is an ancient church which has now been uncovered in East Africa. The church honours St Michael but appears to have been buried immediately after its construction, for the purposes of keeping something sealed underground. Violence soon breaks out between the natives and British soldiers, and strange events (such as cows attacking and devouring hyenas) become commonplace. Meanwhile, Cheche, a crippled boy whom the locals consider to be bad luck, is healing remarkably quickly. A young priest sees this as a sign of God and arranges to have the boy baptised in the old church. However, Cheche is possessed by an ancient evil, and Merrin must regain his faith and carry out his first exorcism...

Right, for those who don't know, this is how it went: Paul Schrader, the director of this film, had his original film version of William Wisher and Caleb Carr's script put on the shelf in favour of a total remake by Renny Harlin. Apparently executives felt Harlin's would be more accessible to its prospective audience. But, when it failed to take the money they expected, the studio felt obliged to dust this one off to recoup some money. So what we effectively have here is the better of the two versions being released straight to DVD.

Stellan Skarsgard plays Merrin in both versions, but he is given better material to work with in Dominion. There's some interesting dialogue when the young priest says, "There's blood. People were sacrificed here." And the sceptical Merrin replies, "Yes, it's almost like a scene of the Inquisitions," inferring that the church has caused its fair share of bloodletting in the name of religion. The idea of a priest losing his faith is hardly a new idea, but here it is at least logical and conducive to the plot, rather than simply the contriving of a hackneyed concept.

When I reviewed the DVD release of Exorcist: The Beginning I mentioned how the alter of satanic sacrifice, with its inherent blood and gore, was not necessary when treachery and deceit from the Master of Lies is much more effective. That's what we get with Dominion. It's more of a soul-searching story than The Beginning which had the possessed boy leaping around on a bed for half the film, as if that's what's expected of The Exorcist. I particularly liked the alter set in this film, which rather than a place of desecration had huge angels posed in the act of spearing something in the ground. The artwork on the walls depicts the war in heaven; and Satan's rebellion is pretty much the earliest evil.

Extras here include a commentary by Paul Schrader, additional scenes, and a stills gallery.

Although Exorcist: The Beginning was not as bad as some critics reported, Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist is a considerably better telling of the tale, with more believable performances and smooth side-stepping of the expected clichés. Because both films tell basically the same story, my advice would be to buy Dominion and not the other. If you're an Exorcist fanatic wait for the complete DVD set which is out any time now.

Ty Power

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