In 1944 Holland, Father Lankester Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard) is forced by sadistic Nazi commander Kessel (Antoine Kamerling) to handpick 10 members of his congregation for Nazi execution. Spiritually broken by the event, Merrin renounces his faith in God and becomes an archaeologist. Three years later, Merrin is sent by Major Granville (Julian Wadham) of the British Armed Forces to lead an archaeological dig in Kenya. Working alongside the naive Father William Francis (Gabirel Mann) and Rachel Lesno (Clara Bellar), a holocaust survivor/nurse, Merrin discovers an ancient church buried underground.
Meanwhile, Lesno and Merrin are trying to reach Cheche (Billy Crawford), a local boy who is hated and feared due to his physical deformities. After performing reconstructive surgery on Cheche's twisted leg, Lesno and Merrin are stunned to find the boy's deformities healing on their own. Father Francis comes to believe the boy is possessed by a demon and must be exorcised. Merrin dismisses the young priest's claims, but with mass chaos spreading across the area for unknown reasons, with cattle eating hyena and the docile British soldiers becoming more violent, it becomes clear to Merrin that the church contained the spirit of a demon and that demon is now in Cheche. With tensions brewing between the British and the African elders threatening to become a full-blown war and Lesno and Francis' lives at risk, Merrin finds that he has no choice but to rediscover his faith and confront the demon.
Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist is a fascinating film, but the story behind its production outweighs it. In 2000, Morgan Creek and Warner Bros. re-released William Friedkin's The Exorcist, the freaky horror classic from 1973, to an impressive $39 million take at the box office. Deciding that the time was right to bring the series back, Morgan Creek hired John Frankenheimer of The Manchurian Candidate to direct and Oscar nominee Liam Neeson to portray Father Merrin in a prequel detailing Merrin's first encounter with the evil that would possess Regan MacNeil in Friedkin's film.
With Frankenheimer leaving the project due to health concerns (he passed away a month later) and Neeson leaving shortly afterwards, the studio turned to Paul Schrader, the writer of Martin Scorcese's Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and The Last Temptation of Christ, to direct. With a script by novelist Caleb Carr and Terminator 2 screenwriter William Wisher and a cast led by Stellan Skarsgard, Gabriel Mann and Clara Bellar, Schrader put together a thematic tale of lost faith and redemption.
I give Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist 4 out of 5 Stars. It lacks the intense scares and shocks of The Exorcist, but wisely avoids the pitfalls made by Boorman, Blatty and Harlin to deliver an intelligent, thoughtful tale that sports gorgeous cinematography, classy performances and multilayered themes and concepts that modern horror films usually ignore. Looking at The Exorcist franchise as a whole, the original film stands on its own and doesn't need the baggage brought up by any of these four continuations. However, if you want more, Dominion stands out as the only continuation worthy of the Exorcist title.
NEXT UP: October 2nd: Slaughter High (1986)