Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist


Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist

Critics Consensus

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.



Total Count: 46


Audience Score

User Ratings: 17,627
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Movie Info

In 2003, respected filmmaker and screenwriter Paul Schrader was hired to direct a prequel to the 1973 box-office smash The Exorcist. However, when Schrader turned in his film to executives at Morgan Creek Productions, the producers felt the film was not marketable, and they opted to remake the picture with director Renny Harlin, who brought a more visually aggressive approach to the story than Schrader's more contemplative vision. In 2004, Harlin's film, Exorcist: The Beginning, was released to middling critical and financial response, while the following year, Schrader's version went into limited release following film festival screenings. In Schrader's Exorcist: The Prequel, Father Lankester Merrin, the aging exorcist from the original story (played here by Stellan Skarsgård) is introduced in 1944, as he serves a flock in Holland during the Nazi occupation. After Nazi officers force Merrin to choose ten members of his congregation for immediate execution, Merrin is left an emotionally broken man, and he takes a leave of absence from his duties. Three years later, Merrin is taking part in an archeological project in East Africa, and he and his crew -- including priest Father Francis (Gabriel Mann), Major Granville (Julian Wadham), and Rachel Lesno (Clara Bellar) -- discover that a church from the fifth century has been buried in the desert. As Merrin and his associates discover that that a porthole to evil is located in the church, Cheche (Billy Crawford), a local boy Merrin has taken under his wing, begins showing signs of having fallen under the spell of Satanic forces.

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Critic Reviews for Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist

All Critics (46) | Top Critics (16)

  • Schrader's intelligent, quietly subversive pic emphasizes spiritual agony over horror ecstasy, while paying occasional lip-service to the need for scares.

    May 26, 2005
  • The frights, the scares, they just weren't there.

    May 24, 2005
  • It's a good, thoughtful horror picture -- and thiiis close to being a very good one.

    May 20, 2005

    David Edelstein

    Top Critic
  • Exorcism aside, Dominion is well-acted, handsomely photographed and hauntingly scored.

    May 20, 2005 | Rating: 3/4
  • The Schrader variation is awfully dull, with scant evidence of the sort of things that make horror movies attractive -- like mounting suspense and spine-tingling creepiness and, oh yeah, the element of horror.

    May 20, 2005
  • To be fair, Schrader's version fails in ways that Harlin's dumbed-down version didn't.

    May 20, 2005 | Rating: 2/4

Audience Reviews for Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist

  • Oct 27, 2013
    It follows most of the same plot beats as "Exorcist: The Beginning", stars Stellan Skarsgård as Father Lankester Merrin, has the same writers and even comes close to the same runtime, but sure, this is a new and improved prequel to "The Exorcist". I like how this film's title literally boasts, "Oh yeah, and for the record, this is the prequel to 'The Exorcist'", just to prove that it has no subtlety about being an attempt at making you forget about "Exorcist: The Beginning", which I suppose it alright, because as far as impressing the critics more, this prequel/remake/early version/midquel/whatever is a success... relatively speaking. Swedes can apparently break important rules as people from the land of death metal by driving out Satan and his assorted buddies, but I seem to be giving this "promising" story concept too much credit, seeing as how there's no saving the film it's attached to, at least when the final product "suffers from hit-and-miss psychological tension, poor visual effects, and weak writing", and is an "overambitious failure of a horror movie". Man, Rotten Tomatoes really did hammer into this baby, and it scored almost 20% higher than "The Beginning", but hey, at least William Peter Blatty, the novelist behind this mythology, liked it, which is most important... in a more idealistic world. Sorry, Bill, my man, but in America, the power of money compels, and even though this film is cheaper than "The Beginning", it made its predecessor look like the financial success of the first "Exorcist"... that is, the first installment in this franchise, not the first chapter in this mythology, which is "The Beginning"... or maybe this film. ...Jeez, you see, prequels are confusing enough in a series when we don't go back and remake them, and to make matters worse, I for one don't think that this film ultimately any better or any worse than "The Beginning". Granted, I'm that one jerk who actually liked "Exorcist: The Beginning", but the point is that this film commits its own sins. More along the lines of an early concept for a film that was too fresh and poorly received for additional funds to be all that considerable, this film is certainly a fair deal cheaper than the $80 million disappointment that was "Exorcist: The Beginning", but it's still backed by a total of $30 million, so certain technical shortcomings are a little difficult to get over, for although one of the more noticeable technical setbacks is less well-defined and less grand, yet intimate camerawork that is mostly distancing in comparison to the camera quality of "The Beginning", there are still faulty visual effects and even the occasional editing hiccup, thus making for a technically improvable film whose budgetary problems add to cheesiness. I didn't find "The Beginning" to be as cheesy as they said, but it was still kind of cornball at times, and while this film is often cheesy in different ways, it ultimately matches its predecessor's cheese factor with histrionics and the occasional dialogue fault, as well as some subtlety issues. True, the film is arguably more subtle than "The Beginning", but when that subtlety lapses, it falls out fairly glaringly, and such moments in bombastic direction by Paul Schrader joins questionable writing spots and even more questionable technical spots in undercutting some of the bite of the film, which was always to be limited by, at the very least, familiarity, as you can imagine. Throughout this paragraph, I have been drawing comparisons between this film and "Exorcist: The Beginning", and while I'm certainly not basing all that broad of an opinion of this film based on its more high-profile, more critically panned predecessor, the final product's being so similar to "The Beginning" reflects the lack of necessity in this story concept, which is tainted enough by general clichés that reflect some laziness. It's perhaps natural shortcomings that really shake the integrity of a film that actually could have gone pretty far, and perhaps should have, seeing as how it was graced with a second chance, but pacing problems should be noted for giving you plenty of time to ponder upon natural shortcomings, being dragged out by repetitious material, made all the more glaring by a meditative atmosphere that was not really all that prominent in "The Beginning". The meditativeness of this film makes the final product seem more intelligent than its predecessor, but if nothing else got said predecessor by, it was sheer entertainment value, which is limited in this dryer film, whose thoughtfulness would be less distancing if the film wasn't so faulty in plenty of other places, taking enough damage to join its predecessor near the brink of, at the very least, mediocrity. Well, just as the "Exorcism" prequel before it did, this film manages to keep from falling beyond that brink, being a mess, sure, but a pretty decent one, or at least a pretty decent-looking one. For both this film and "Exorcist: The Beginning", the great Vittorio Storaro was employed as cinematographer, and while this film's equipment is, as I said earlier, less well-defined, and with a less impressive field of view than the equipment used for "The Beginning", Storaro throws in the occasional stylish shot to catch your, which never drifts too far away from Storaro's trademark tastefully sparse plays with lighting, whose lighter shades are nothing if not lovely, and whose darker shades are near-haunting in their complimenting the tone of this thriller, which is truly established by Paul Schrader. Schrader makes his share of mistakes as director, and even has some intentional methods of storytelling that are kind of questionable, with the most notable hit-or-miss element within Schrader's storytelling being a certain meditativeness that often simply ends up blanding the film up with cold spells once material runs dry, yet just as often proves to be kind of effective, soaking up brood and subtle intensity in a way that is not all that biting, but kind of smart, and generally fairly effective, at least enough to establish a consistent degree of intrigue. Now, that intrigue is limited, but it still stands, and no matter how faulty Schrader gets to be as director, his efforts do a decent job of breathing some life into this film and saving it as yet another fair interpretation of a promising story concept. This is a very been-there-done-that story, even if you take "Exorcist: The Beginning" out account and leave yourself with only the clichés to soak up, but this tale is not so stale that it doesn't still have a fair deal of intrigue to its subject matter, augmented here by more attention to thematic depth and intelligence. Now, the film isn't that much sharper than "In the Beginning", and its themes on human flaws, as well as the repercussions of those flaws, are also a little too familiar for their own good, but the subtle touches that distinguish this film from the more commercialized "The Beginning" end up going a pretty good ways in gracing the film with decency that is perhaps finally secured by some inspired acting. Actually, I thought that everyone was pretty decent in "The Beginning", and while this film is sharper in plenty of places, Gabriel Mann is a bit of a lowlight, - being not as convincing as he should be as a conceptually compelling young and hopeful priest - but when other supporting players are good, they're typically stronger than their counterparts, while Stellan Skarsgård proves to be as good in his charismatic and subtly layered portrayal of the once-ambiguous Father Lankester Merrin character. Skarsgård doesn't have a whole lot to work with, but he ultimately all but saves the film, which makes a lot of mistakes, but makes enough commendable calls to ultimately endear as a decent, if messy final product When the beginning has ended... again, some cheesy technical hiccups and subtlety issues, combined with conventionalism, dragging, dry spells and all around inconsequentiality, drive the final product into underwhelmingness, but through an intriguing subject matter, - with worthy themes and tones, brought to life by anything from handsome visual style to highlights in direction and acting - "Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist" ultimately stands as a fair, if flawed alternative interpretation of the precursor to a classic saga. 2.5/5 - Fair
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Aug 15, 2012
    ** out of **** Here's the story of "Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist". It's a long and complicated one. Somewhere between 2004 and 2005, production had begun on a prequel to "The Exorcist" that would talk about the backstory of Father Merrin, portrayed by Max Von Sydow in the original film. Initially, John Frankenheimer was attached, but his health problems and eventual death put another man in the director's chair: Paul Schrader. He had basically made his movie, and then the studio - Morgan Creek Productions - didn't think the film that had been made would be a financial success for the company. Therefore, they hired another director - Renny Harlin - to rework the entire film; his version was called "Exorcist: The Beginning". Now, I've seen that film, and it's bad; real fucking bad. It has used similar sets (and a few of the same actors) from Schrader's film, but it was just significantly worse all around. I guess the studio realized that too, and therefore felt the desire to give Schrader enough money to complete his movie. The stories are essentially the same, although Schrader seems to be a more capable filmmaker than Harlin. His film actually has some structure and general pacing to it, although it's not necessarily good pacing at the end of the day, and the cinematography is also an area in which he shows a lot of improvement over the previous work. "Dominion" at least has the advantage of feeling more cinematic than its predecessor. Father Merrin (played by Stellan Skarsgard in both versions) is the troubled priest from "The Exorcist" that gave his life in the process of assisting in the exorcism of young, possessed Regan MacNeil. But before the incident, there was another encounter that he had with pure evil from a plane of existence beyond ours; in other words, quite possibly Hell. "Dominion" sees Merrin in East Africa, having left the church for a while after a traumatic event during World War II that he endured in Holland. He now devotes his life to an archeological dig; to unearth a long-lost church. He assembles a team of archeologists and a priest (Gabriel Mann) to aid him in all areas during the excavation. However, he digs up more than he bargained for when it becomes clear that evil, demonic forces have plagued the village. Merrin must choose between confronting his faith or walking away from the situation. I know there's a good story to be told here. For the record, Schrader is obviously more devoted to telling it skillfully than Harlin ever was. Nevertheless, it's an affair that is unfortunately far too slow-moving and uninvolving to work. There are brilliant scenes which attempt to bring us into Merrin's emotionally vulnerable self-conscious, but it's not easy buying the film when everything else is too contrived. On top of that, there are bad special effects - although nothing that matches the badness of the hyena scene in "The Beginning", although the silly CGI hyenas still exist here nonetheless - and some of the acting is wooden at best, although I think Skarsgard is good in this role. "Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist" is basically a bad movie helped by an overwhelming sense of sincerity. Underneath it all, I can't say it's well-made and I definitely wasn't engaged, but it regards its supernatural and religious themes in utter seriousness, which is more than I can say for most films that involve demons and exorcisms. Also, I appreciate that it's better than "The Beginning", if only marginally; but whatever. Both versions of this story are forgettable and not particularly well-told; but if you're going to watch one of them, you'd better make it this one. At least, in spite of its failures (a lot of them very big and hard to get by), "Dominion" is bearable. But it still doesn't do William Peter Blatty's novel legacy much justice; although he did go on record saying that he prefers this to "The Beginning". But who the hell wouldn't?
    Ryan M Super Reviewer
  • Nov 01, 2011
    Watching it in conjunction with 'Exorcist: The Beginning' (The film that was made when the studio was unhappy with this version) is really quite fascinating. Its perhaps a study more interesting than the films themselves in which you examine how two sets of directors and screenwriters tell essentially the same story with a few changes here and there and the results are radically different. In regards to 'Dominion', its hard to review because it never had a decent post-production budget and therefore feels unfinished. Ultimately I prefer it to the other, but it still isn't that good. Skarsgard is great here and the central dilemma is admittedly a complex and realistic one (i.e. could one's faith and life recover after facing true horror) but the conversations that result are generally predictable and the possession sequences are quite bland (although it could be from the budget constraints). Its mostly well directed by Schrader, but the script is often just to obvious.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Aug 14, 2011
    This movie was a fuck load of shit, yes that is my official review.
    Greg A Super Reviewer

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