I hate to side with bottom line-obsessed studio executives against ’70s-era cinema giant Paul Schrader, but Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist—the film famously shelved by Morgan Creek and then re-shot, with a new cast and script, by Renny Harlin as Exorcist: The Beginning—turns out to be as dreadfully boring, ridiculous, and pompous as rumored. Not to say that it’s worse than Harlin’s disastrous take on the story of Father Merrin’s first encounter with the Devil—unlike his super-hack replacement, at least Schrader recognizes the value of restraint. Alas, what he doesn’t know, or, rather, what he arrogantly refuses to accomplish, is how to produce even the basic visceral thrills required by horror films. Schrader’s version features the same basic plot as Harlin’s, recounting Merrin’s (Stellan Skarsgård) traumatic encounter with Nazis during WWII and his later demonic troubles at an archeological dig in 1947 East Africa where a buried Byzantine church has been unearthed and where tensions run high between the local tribesmen and British army. Schrader’s film is heavy on philosophical inquiries into the nature of evil (is it a force created by man or God?) and the repetitive nature of history (look at those British officers behave just like SS foot soldiers!), and its mood is one of muted contemplation rather than cacophonic mayhem. Yet by deliberately eschewing anything even remotely frightening, the film, written by Caleb Carr and William Wisher Jr., seems possessed by an unwarranted and unwelcome air of superiority, as if it were too adult and profound to dwell on evil spirits, unnatural phenomenon, and grisly murder except as metaphors for the corrupting influence of colonialism and the arduousness of sustaining religious faith in the face of unspeakable atrocities. Despite its more intellectual impulses, Schrader’s Christian ghost story—also populated by a fresh-faced missionary (Gabriel Mann) trying to bring Jesus to the dark-skinned heathens, a bland platonic love interest (Clara Bellar) for Merrin, and lots of convulsing natives—nonetheless retains Harlin’s caricature-laden portrait of Africans as exotic pagan-worshipping “others” and a fondness for bargain-basement CGI hyenas. The crippled mongoloid boy named Cheche (Billy Crawford) who is eventually transformed by Satan into a hairless, levitating, diaper-wearing fiend, however, is Dominion’s own uniquely embarrassing contribution to the now-thoroughly-hellish Exorcist franchise.
- Warner Bros.
- 117 min
- Paul Schrader
- Caleb Carr, William Wisher Jr.
- Stellan Skarsgård, Gabriel Mann, Clara Bellar, Billy Crawford, Ralph Brown, Israel Aduramo, Andrew French, Antonie Kamerling, Julian Wadham, Eddie Osei
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