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Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

One of the strangest stories of any sequel to a major film ever made, 2005 saw brilliant Director Paul Schrader (First Reformed) team up with writer Caleb Carr, who crafted one of my favorite books of the past two decades, "The Alienist".

Schrader and Carr created a literate, intelligent prequel to "The Exorcist", detailing a much younger Father Merrin and his first encounter with the demon that would haunt him many years later.

DOMINION was detested by the studio heads, who thought it was boring and stupid. So (in a move that only the studio heads could possibly think was a good idea) they hired a new director, Renny Harlin, who's best known as the action director behind "Cliffhanger" and "Die Hard 2", a new writer that threw out almost the entire screenplay and used the same lead actor and many of the same sets to film an entirely different movie. That version was the only one released in 2004. When it bombed in theatres, an effort was made to finalize and release Schrader's more literate version of the same story.

Schrader and Carr take their time setting up the story and atmosphere. Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting, Thor) is very good as Father Merrin. Having lost his faith and shifted his focus to archeology in British ruled Africa, he stumbles upon an incredible temple buried underground and clearly designed to keep something inside.

As his crew begins to unearth it, the British commander and others begin to fall under the influence of an evil power.

Those looking for spinning heads and green pea soup were surely disappointed. It's a methodical build to some tense moments, but the film is filled with more of a creeping sense of dread like 2019's "Midsommer" than Reagan MacNeil's levitating creepshow in the still terrifying 1973 original.

Skarsgard's internal battle with his lost faith in the presence of an obvious possession (or two) is really well acted. He's given a much richer, deeper character here than in Harlin's version.

Finally released several years after its creation, DOMINION was well regarded, but never caught on with audiences, who were justifiably confused by just what the hell this version was...a sequel to a sequel, a remake of a sequel...???

At the end of the day, its a far superior film to Harlin's, touching on deeper questions of faith, power with intelligent writing.

It's not perfect by any stretch, but at least it's fascinating and challenges your expectations of how Merrin became Merrin. Gabriel Mann (The Blacklist) is pretty bad as young Father Francis, but Ralph Brown (Alien3) more than makes up for it as the Sergeant Major of the British forces driven to madness by the waking demon.

Ironically, Carr thought Harlin's version was better, while the author of the original 'Exorcist" novel, William Peter Blatty called Schrader's film "handsome, classy and elegant".

More psychological thriller than horror flick, DOMINION gets a B-.

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